Motor neurons are segmentally organised in the developing chick hindbrain, with groups of neurons occupying pairs of hindbrain segments or rhombomeres. The branchiomotor nucleus of the trigeminal nerve occupies rhombomeres 2 and 3 (r2 and r3), that of the facial nerve r4 and r5, and that of the glossopharyngeal nerve r6 and r7. Branchiomotor neuron cell bodies lie within the basal plate, forming columns on either side of the ventral midline floor plate. Axons originating in rhombomeres 2, 4 and 6 grow laterally (dorsally) towards the exit points located in the alar plates of these rhombomeres, while axons originating in odd-numbered rhombomeres 3 and 5 grow laterally and then rostrally, crossing a rhombomere boundary to reach their exit point. Examination of the trajectories of motor axons in odd-numbered segments at late stages of development (19–25) showed stereotyped pathways, in which axons grew laterally before making a sharp turn rostrally. During the initial phase of outgrowth (stage 14–15), however, axons had meandering courses and did not grow in a directed fashion towards their exit point. When r3 or r5 was transplanted with reversed rostrocaudal polarity prior to motor axon outgrowth, the majority of axons grew to their appropriate, rostral exit point, despite the inverted neuroepithelial polarity. In r3 reversals, however, there was a considerable increase in the normally small number of axons that grew out via the caudal, r4 exit point. These findings are discussed with relevance to the factors involved in motor neuron specification and axon outgrowth in the developing hindbrain.

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