Explants of fetal mouse cerebral cortex, continuously exposed to the local anesthetic Xylocaine from the time of explantation to the time of fixation, were examined in the electron microscope to determine whether morphologically normal synapses and potentially functional interneuronal synaptic networks can form in the absence of electrical impulse activity. Morphological differentiation of complex synaptic networks proceeds normally, and the drug does not alter the fine structure of the formed synapses. These observations are consonant with the electrophysiological data which show that the potential for complex bioelectric activity can develop in the absence of its expression. The development and maturation of functional synaptic networks, then, is not contingent upon prior electrical impulse activity. These data support the concept that organized neuronal assemblies are formed in forward reference to their ultimate function.

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