Abstract

The development of most regions of the vertebrate nervous system includes a distinct phase of neuronal degeneration during which a substantial proportion of the neurons initially generated die. This degeneration primarily adjusts the magnitude of each neuronal population to the size or functional needs of its projection field, but in the process it seems also to eliminate many neurons whose axons have grown to either the wrong target or an inappropriate region within the target area. In addition, many connections that are initially formed are later eliminated without the death of the parent cell. In most cases such process elimination results in the removal of terminal axonal branches and hence serves as a mechanism to "fine-tune" neuronal wiring. However, there are now also several examples of the large-scale elimination of early-formed pathways as a result of the selective degeneration of long axon collaterals. Thus, far from being relatively minor aspects of neural development, these regressive phenomena are now recognized as playing a major role in determining the form of the mature nervous system.

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