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Type III neuregulin 1 regulates pathfinding of sensory axons in the developing spinal cord and periphery
Melissa L. Hancock, Dan W. Nowakowski, Lorna W. Role, David A. Talmage, John G. Flanagan


Sensory axons must develop appropriate connections with both central and peripheral targets. Whereas the peripheral cues have provided a classic model for neuron survival and guidance, less is known about the central cues or the coordination of central and peripheral connectivity. Here we find that type III Nrg1, in addition to its known effect on neuron survival, regulates axon pathfinding. In type III Nrg1–/– mice, death of TrkA+ nociceptive/thermoreceptive neurons was increased, and could be rescued by Bax elimination. In the Bax and type III Nrg1 double mutants, axon pathfinding abnormalities were seen for TrkA+ neurons both in cutaneous peripheral targets and in spinal cord central targets. Axon guidance phenotypes in the spinal cord included penetration of axons into ventral regions from which they would normally be repelled by Sema3A. Accordingly, sensory neurons from type III Nrg1–/– mice were unresponsive to the repellent effects of Sema3A in vitro, which might account, at least in part, for the central projection phenotype, and demonstrates an effect of type III Nrg1 on guidance cue responsiveness in neurons. Moreover, stimulation of type III Nrg1 back-signaling in cultured sensory neurons was found to regulate axonal levels of the Sema3A receptor neuropilin 1. These results reveal a molecular mechanism whereby type III Nrg1 signaling can regulate the responsiveness of neurons to a guidance cue, and show that type III Nrg1 is required for normal sensory neuron survival and axon pathfinding in both central and peripheral targets.

  • Accepted September 11, 2011.
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