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The homeodomain transcription factors Islet 1 and HB9 are expressed in adult alpha and gamma motoneurons identified by selective retrograde tracing


: Fredrik Vult von Steyern, Department of Neurophysiology, University of Oslo, POB 1104, N-0317 Oslo, Norway.


To study gene expression in differentiated adult motoneuron subtypes, we used fluorescent dextrans for both anterograde and retrograde axonal tracing in adult rat and mouse. Application of these dyes to the cut distal and proximal ends of small extramuscular nerve branches revealed both the peripheral ramifications and the cell bodies of subsets of motoneurons. We show that the soleus muscle is innervated by two nerve branches, one of which contains gamma motor and sensory axons but no alpha motor axons. By retrograde tracing of this branch, we selectively labelled gamma motoneurons. In adult rat, the nerves innervating the soleus and extensor digitorum longus muscles contain almost exclusively axons innervating slow (type I) and fast (type 2) muscle fibres, respectively. We selectively labelled slow and fast type motoneurons by retrograde tracing of these nerves. With immunocytochemistry we show that adult motoneurons express several homeodomain genes that are associated with motoneuron differentiation during early embryonic development. Combining selective retrograde labelling with immunocytochemistry we compared the expression patterns in alpha and gamma motoneurons. The homeodomain transcription factors Islet 1 and HB9 were expressed in slow and fast alpha motoneurons and in soleus gamma motoneurons. Motoneurons in each population varied in their intensity of the immunostaining, but no factor or combination of factors was unique to any one population.