• visual system;
  • GAP-43 (B-50);
  • developmental neurobiology;
  • immunocytochemistry


Metabolic labeling studies have shown that the developing hamster retinotectal pathway is marked by a high level of synthesis and axonal transport of the neuron-specific phosphoprotein GAP-43, which then decline sharply with synaptic maturation. To understand better the relationship of GAP-43 to specific developmental events, we used a monospecific antibody to examine the location of this protein in the optic tract and retinal target areas at various stages. In late embryonic and in neonatal hamsters, dense GAP-43 immunostaining was seen along the entire extent of the optic tract axons, including fascicles coursing over and through the lateral geniculate body (LGB) and within the upper layers of the superior colliculus (SC). The retinal origin of many of these fascicles was confirmed by their rapid disappearance after removal of the contralateral eye. During the first postnatal week, immunostaining in the fiber fascicles showed a marked decline, though the protein was still present throughout the neuropil of the LGB and SC. In the second postnatal week, the neuropil staining also diminished, and by 12 days after birth, both structures showed only light immunoreactivity. The high levels of GAP-43 in embryonic and neonatal optic tract axons coincide temporally with axon elongation, initial target contact, and collateral formation by the retinofugal fibers, whereas subsequent concentration of the protein in the neuropil suggests its involvement in the elaboration of terminal arbors and synaptogenesis.