Beta-Bungarotoxin(beta-BT) was applied to chick embryos at 3-day intervals beginning on the 4th day of incubation to see the effect of chronically and massively applied beta-BT, and to investigate the hair cell-nerve relationship in the developing inner ear by electron microscopy. On the 10th day of incubation, nerve terminals had achieved contact with differentiating hair cells, but the acoustico-vestibular ganglion cells of treated animals were decreased in number to one-third of those of the control. By the 14th day, most of the ganglion cells degenerated and disappeared, and only a few nerve terminals were seen in the neuroepithelium. At this time, most of the hair cells lacked synaptic contacts with nerve terminals; but their presynaptic specialization remained intact and they showed evidence of continuing differentiation. On the 17th day, the acoustico-vestibular ganglion cells were completely absent. All the hair cells were devoid of afferent and efferent innervation but were fully differentiated on the 21st day. Beta-BT was found to have a similar destructive effect on cultured spinal ganglion cells. The present study shows that beta-BT kills acoustico-vestibular and spinal nerve cells when applied chronically and massively during development. Furthermore, the differentiation of hair cells proceeds normally, and their presynaptic specializations are maintained when nerve terminals are absent during later developmental stages.

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