We determined the cellular localization of an endogenous lectin at various times during the development of a well-characterized region of chick brain, the optic tectum. This lectin is a carbohydrate-binding protein that interacts with lactose and other saccharides, undergoes striking changes in specific activity with development, and has previously been purified by affinity chromatography from extracts of embryonic chick brain and muscle. Cellular localization in the tectum was done by indirect immunofluoresecent staining, using immunoglobulin G derived from an antiserum raised against pure lectin.
No lectin was detectable in the optic tectum examined at 5 days of embryonic development. From approximately 7 days of development, neuronal cell bodies and fibers were labeled by the antibody; and extracts of tectum contained hemagglutination activity that could be inhibited by lactose or by the antiserum. Lectin remained present in many tectal neuronal layers after hatching; but in 2-month-old chicks it was sparse or absent in most of the tectum except for prominent labeling of fibers in the stratum album centrale. The initial appearance of lectin in the optic tectum was not dependent on innervation by optic nerve fibers since bilateral enucleation during embryogenesis did not affect it. Lectin was detectable on the surface of embryonic optic tectal neurons dissociated with a buffer containing EDTA.