Morphology of developing rat genioglossal motoneurons studied in vitro: Relative changes in diameter and surface area of somata and dendrites

P. A. Núñez‐Abades, W. E. Cameron

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31 Scopus citations


This study describes the postnatal change in size of motoneurons in the hypoglossal nucleus that innervate the genioglossus muscle. Such anatomical information is essential for determining the cellular mechanisms responsible for the changes observed in the electrical properties of these motoneurons during postnatal development. The cells analyzed here are part of an earlier study (Núñez‐Abades et al. [1994] J. Comp. Neurol. 339:401–420) where 40 genioglossal (GG) motoneurons from four age groups (1–2, 5–6, 13–15, and 19–30 postnatal days) were labeled by intracellular injection of neurobiotin in an in vitro slice preparation of the rat brainstem and their cellular morphology was reconstructed in three‐dimensional space. The sequence of postnatal dendritic growth can be described in two phases. The first phase, between birth (1–2 days) and 13–15 days, was characterized by no change in either dendritic, diameter (any branch order) or dendritic surface area of GG motoneurons. However, maturation of the dendritic tree produced more surface area at greater distances from the soma by redistributing existing membrane (retracting some terminal branches). During the second phase, between 13–15 days and 19–30 days, the dendritic surface area doubled as a result of an increase in the dendritic diameter across all branch orders and a generation of new terminal branches. In contrast to the growth exhibited by the dendrites, there was little discernible postnatal growth of somata. At all ages, dendrites of GG motoneurons show the largest amount of tapering in the firstand second‐order dendrites. The calculated dendritic trunk parameter deviated from a value 1.0, indicating that the dendritic tree of developing GG motoneurons cannot be modeled accurately as an equivalent cylinder. However, the value of this parameter increased with age. Strong correlations were found between the diameter of the first‐order dendrite and the dendritic surface area, dendritic volume, combined dendritic length, and, to a lesser extent, the number of terminal dendrites in GG motoneurons. Correlations were also found between somal and dendritic geometry but only when data were pooled across all age groups. These data support earlier studies on kitten phrenic motoneurons, which concluded that postnatal growth of motoneurons was not a continuous process. Based on the fact that there was no growth in the first 2 weeks, the changes in the membrane properties described during this phase of postnatal development (e.g., decrease in input resistance) cannot be attributed to increases in the total membrane surface area of these motoneurons. It is proposed that these changes result from changes in the specific membrane resistance of these neurons. © 1995 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-142
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 27 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • brainstem
  • hypoglossal nucleus
  • respiration
  • three‐dimensional reconstruction
  • upper airways

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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