Neonatal tryptophan dietary restriction alters development of retinotectal projections in rats

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The specification of sensory neural circuits includes the elimination of transitory axon collaterals/synapses that takes place during early post natal life, an important step for the acquisition of topographical order of sensory systems. Serotonin has been implicated in the patterning of connections in subcortical and cortical circuits. We investigated the effects of the dietary restriction of the only serotonin precursor, tryptophan, on the development of the uncrossed retinotectal pathway in pigmented rats. Litters were fed through their mothers with either a tryptophan restricted, corn and gelatin based diet or a similar control diet complemented with tryptophan during the lactation period. The developmental status of the uncrossed retinotectal terminal fields was studied after the anterograde transport of horseradish peroxidase injected into one eye. We also studied the effects of tryptophan restriction on 5-HT immunoreactivity of raphe neurons, on cAMP levels in the visual layers of the superior colliculus and on protein synthesis among retinal neurons. We found that tryptophan restriction resulted in reduced weight gain among tryptophan restricted rats, without differences in protein synthesis between tryptophan complemented and restricted groups. Tryptophan restriction was also associated with a reduction of serotonin immunoreactive cells in the raphe nuclei and increased cAMP levels in the superior colliculus. Finally we found that neonatal tryptophan restriction resulted in an abnormal patterning of retinotectal topography, which was consistent with a developmental delay in axonal elimination and fine tuning of central connections. These results suggest, therefore, that dietary tryptophan is crucial for the influence of serotonin in the maturation of central visual connections.

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