In order to understand the significance of cell death in the formation of neural circuits, it is necessary to determine whether before cell death neurons have (a) sent axons to the periphery; (b) reached the proper target organs; and (c) have established synaptic connections with them. Axon counts demonstrated that, after sending out initial axons, ciliary cells sprouted numerous collaterals at the time of peripheral synapse formation. Subsequently, large numbers of axons were lost from the nerves, slightly later than the onset of ganglion cell death. A secondary loss of collaterals later occurred unaccompanied by cell death. Measurements of conduction velocity and axon diameters indicated that all ganglion cell axons grew down the proper pathways from the start, but it was not possible to determine whether all axons had actually formed proper synapses. This was ascertained, however, in the ganglion itself where preganglionic fibres were shown to synapse selectively with all ganglion cells before cell death. During this period, degenerating preganglionic synapses were observed on normal cells. It can therefore be inferred that at least some preganglionics established proper synapses before dying and that a single synapse is not sufficient to prevent cell death. In this system neither preganglionic nor ganglionic cell death seems designed to remove improper connections but rather to remove cells that have not competed effectively for a sufficient number of synapses, resulting in a quantitative matching up of neuron numbers.

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