Notochordless Xenopus embryos were produced by u.v. irradiation of the uncleaved fertilized egg. The spinal cords were examined using intermediate filament staining for glial cells, retrograde HRP staining for neuronal morphology and an anti-glycinergic antibody to reveal commissural cells and axons. The floorplate cells of the normal cord appear to be absent and their position along the ventral midline of the cord is occupied by motor neurones, Kolmer-Agduhr cells, radial glial cells and a ventrally placed marginal zone containing the longitudinal axons. Motor neurone number is reduced to 15% of control values, and the sensory extramedullary cell number is increased twentyfold. Commissural axons are still able to cross the ventral cord but do so at abnormal angles and some commissural axons continue to grow circumferentially up the contralateral side of the cord rather than turning to grow longitudinally. Extracellular electrophysiological recordings from motor axons reveal that the normal alternation of locomotor activity on the left and right side of the embryo is lost in notochordless animals. These results suggest that the notochord and/or the normal floor plate structure are important for the development of the laterality of spinal cord connections and may influence motor neurone proliferation or differentiation.

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