Sensory fibres from dorsal root ganglia (DRG) enter the spinal cord and run within a clearly defined ipsilateral pathway, the dorsal column, which lies in the dorsal funiculus. We have examined the characteristics of this pathway as a defined substrate for dorsal column axons in Rana temporaria tadpoles by rotating the thoracic spinal cord through 180 degrees from dorsal to ventral. Using HRP as a neuronal tracer we establish that many dorsal column axons from the hindlimb locate the ipsilateral or contralateral dorsal column pathway in the rotated cord. Other axons locate and grow caudally down the contralateral dorsal column returning to the lumbar region. Axons of the dorsal column never take an inappropriate pathway except at the transection sites where they negotiate abnormal routes to reach the contralateral or ipsilateral dorsal columns in normally positioned or rotated cord. The results demonstrate that the dorsal columns act as highly specific pathways for axons from DRG neurones but the axons' interactions with the pathway do not control the craniocaudal or left-right options for growth.

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