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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 4;109(36):14669-74. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1116481109. Epub 2012 Aug 21.

Axon guidance in the developing ocular motor system and Duane retraction syndrome depends on Semaphorin signaling via alpha2-chimaerin.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, King's College, London SE1 1UL, United Kingdom.


Eye movements depend on correct patterns of connectivity between cranial motor axons and the extraocular muscles. Despite the clinical importance of the ocular motor system, little is known of the molecular mechanisms underlying its development. We have recently shown that mutations in the Chimaerin-1 gene encoding the signaling protein α2-chimaerin (α2-chn) perturb axon guidance in the ocular motor system and lead to the human eye movement disorder, Duane retraction syndrome (DRS). The axon guidance cues that lie upstream of α2-chn are unknown; here we identify candidates to be the Semaphorins (Sema) 3A and 3C, acting via the PlexinA receptors. Sema3A/C are expressed in and around the developing extraocular muscles and cause growth cone collapse of oculomotor neurons in vitro. Furthermore, RNAi knockdown of α2-chn or PlexinAs in oculomotor neurons abrogates Sema3A/C-dependent growth cone collapse. In vivo knockdown of endogenous PlexinAs or α2-chn function results in stereotypical oculomotor axon guidance defects, which are reminiscent of DRS, whereas expression of α2-chn gain-of-function constructs can rescue PlexinA loss of function. These data suggest that α2-chn mediates Sema3-PlexinA repellent signaling. We further show that α2-chn is required for oculomotor neurons to respond to CXCL12 and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), which are growth promoting and chemoattractant during oculomotor axon guidance. α2-chn is therefore a potential integrator of different types of guidance information to orchestrate ocular motor pathfinding. DRS phenotypes can result from incorrect regulation of this signaling pathway.

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