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J Neurosci. 2001 Jun 1;21(11):3911-22.

Widespread expression of netrin-1 by neurons and oligodendrocytes in the adult mammalian spinal cord.

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  • 1Centre for Neuronal Survival, Montreal Neurological Institute, Royal Victoria Hospital, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H3A 2B4.


Netrins are a family of secreted proteins that function as chemotropic axon guidance cues during neural development. Here we demonstrate that netrin-1 continues to be expressed in the adult rat spinal cord at a level similar to that in the embryonic CNS. In contrast, netrin-3, which is also expressed in the embryonic spinal cord, was not detected in the adult. In situ hybridization analysis demonstrated that cells in the white matter and the gray matter of the adult spinal cord express netrin-1. Colocalization studies using the neuronal marker NeuN revealed that netrin-1 is expressed by multiple classes of spinal interneurons and motoneurons. Markers identifying glial cell types indicated that netrin-1 is expressed by most, if not all, oligodendrocytes but not by astrocytes. During neural development, netrin-1 has been proposed to function as a diffusible long-range cue for growing axons. We show that in the adult spinal cord the majority of netrin-1 protein is not freely soluble but is associated with membranes or the extracellular matrix. Fractionation of adult spinal cord white matter demonstrated that netrin-1 was absent from fractions enriched for compact myelin but was enriched in fractions containing periaxonal myelin and axolemma, indicating that netrin-1 protein may be localized to the periaxonal space. These findings suggest that in addition to its role as a long-range guidance cue for developing axons, netrin may have a short-range function associated with the cell surface that contributes to the maintenance of appropriate neuronal and axon-oligodendroglial interactions in the mature nervous system.

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