• axon guidance;
  • motoneuron pools;
  • neural development;
  • phylogenetic conservation of neural characteristics;
  • neuronal specificity;
  • quail chick chimeras


We characterized the motoneuron pool positions and projection patterns in the embryonic quail hindlimb and compared them to those in the chick to determine the degree of similarity and to form a baseline for future chimeric experiments. We find that the most similar parameters of pool position correlate with the major axonal pathway choices. First, the medial-lateral pool position, which is highly conserved among birds and mammals, is identical in the quail and chick and correlates with the dorsal-ventral pathway choice, the first and least plastic of the choices within the limb. Second, although quail pools were known to be compressed into seven rather than eight segments, we show that the map of pools is compressed about a central point (segment three) that preserves the spatial relationships between anterior pools and the crural plexus, and between posterior pools and the sciatic plexus. Access to guidance cues that are restricted to each plexus region is thus maintained between species. Third, pool position along the anterior-posterior axis is the least similar parameter between species. In fact, the entire lumbosacral motor complex may shift by ± half a segment in individual quail. Despite the consequent differences in segmental projections, the specific projection pattern within each quail hindlimb is identical to that in the chick. There is no need to preserve the exact segmental pattern either phylogenetically or during development, because motoneurons accommodate to modest variations in their position along the anterior-posterior axis by sorting out at the limb base. The contrast between variable segmental and constant limb projections also demonstrates that neither the specification nor the precise projection of motoneurons is dependent upon the specification or development of somites.