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Development. 2000 Oct;127(20):4383-93.

Developmental regulation of GDNF response and receptor expression in the enteric nervous system.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Genetics, Biogen, Inc., Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.


The development of the enteric nervous system is dependent upon the actions of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) on neural crest-derived precursor cells in the embryonic gut. GDNF treatment of cultured enteric precursor cells leads to an increase in the number of neurons that develop and/or survive. Here we demonstrate that, although GDNF promoted an increase in neuron number at all embryonic ages examined, there was a developmental shift from a mitogenic to a trophic response by the developing enteric neurons. The timing of this shift corresponded to developmental changes in gut expression of GFR alpha-1, a co-receptor in the GDNF-Ret signaling complex. GFR alpha-1 was broadly expressed in the gut at early developmental stages, at which times soluble GFR alpha-1 was released into the medium by cultured gut cells. At later times, GFR alpha-1 became restricted to neural crest-derived cells. GFR alpha-1 could participate in GDNF signaling when expressed in cis on the surface of enteric precursor cells, or as a soluble protein. The GDNF-mediated response was greater when cell surface, compared with soluble, GFR alpha-1 was present, with the maximal response seen the presence of both cis and trans forms of GFR alpha-1. In addition to contributing to GDNF signaling, cell-surface GFR alpha-1 modulated the specificity of interactions between GDNF and soluble GFR alphas. These experiments demonstrate that complex, developmentally regulated, signaling interactions contribute to the GDNF-dependent development of enteric neurons.

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