Retinal axons show region-specific patterning along the dorsal-ventral axis of diencephalon: retinal axons grow in a compact bundle over hypothalamus, dramatically splay out over thalamus, and circumvent epithalamus as they continue toward the dorsal midbrain. In vitro, retinal axons are repulsed by substrate-bound and soluble activities in hypothalamus and epithalamus, but invade thalamus. The repulsion is mimicked by a soluble floor plate activity. Tenascin and neurocan, extracellular matrix molecules that inhibit retinal axon growth in vitro, are enriched in hypothalamus and epithalamus. Within thalamus, a stimulatory activity is specifically upregulated in target nuclei at the time that retinal axons invade them. These findings suggest that region-specific, axon repulsive and stimulatory activities control retinal axon patterning in the embryonic diencephalon.

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