Primary Afferent Synapses on Developing and Adult Renshaw Cells

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The mechanisms that diversify adult interneurons from a few pools of embryonic neurons are unknown. Renshaw cells, Ia inhibitory interneurons (IaINs), and possibly other types of mammalian spinal interneurons have common embryonic origins within the V1 group. However, in contrast to IaINs and other V1-derived interneurons, adult Renshaw cells receive motor axon synapses and lack proprioceptive inputs. Here, we investigated how this specific pattern of connectivity emerges during the development of Renshaw cells. Tract tracing and immunocytochemical markers [parvalbumin and vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (VGLUT1)] showed that most embryonic (embryonic day 18) Renshaw cells lack dorsal root inputs, but more than half received dorsal root synapses by postnatal day 0 (P0) and this input spread to all Renshaw cells by P10–P15. Electrophysiological recordings in neonates indicated that this input is functional and evokes Renshaw cell firing. VGLUT1-IR bouton density on Renshaw cells increased until P15 but thereafter decreased because of limited synapse proliferation coupled with the enlargement of Renshaw cell dendrites. In parallel, Renshaw cell postsynaptic densities apposed to VGLUT1-IR synapses became smaller in adult compared with P15. In contrast, vesicular acetylcholine transporter-IR motor axon synapses contact embryonic Renshaw cells and proliferate postnatally matching Renshaw cell growth. Like other V1 neurons, Renshaw cells are thus competent to receive sensory synapses. However, after P15, these sensory inputs appear deselected through arrested proliferation and synapse weakening. Thus, Renshaw cells shift from integrating sensory and motor inputs in neonates to predominantly motor inputs in adult. Similar synaptic weight shifts on interneurons may be involved in the maturation of motor reflexes and locomotor circuitry.