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Rev Neurosci. 1997 Jan-Mar;8(1):13-27.

Neurotrophin regulation of the developing nervous system: analyses of knockout mice.

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  • 1Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10021, USA.


The neurotrophins, NGF, BDNF, NT3 and NT4, are one family in a growing repertoire of neurotrophic factors. The neurotrophins have long been implicated in neuronal survival and recent studies from mice with targeted disruptions of the neurotrophin genes confirm this role, but also reveal that the action of the neurotrophins is more complex, and in some instances more interactive, than originally envisaged. Lack of functional NGF, BDNF and NT3 genes results in severe neuronal deficits and an early postnatal death. However, NT4 is unique among the neurotrophins and while the absence of NT4 does result in limited sensory neuron loss these mice do not die early, suggesting that NT4-dependent neurons are not critical for survival. Phenotypic analyses of mice lacking neurotrophin receptors, TrkA, B and C, confirm that TrkA is the functional receptor for NGF, TrkB acts as the primary receptor for BDNF and NT4, and NT3 signals primarily through TrkC. However, the finding that TrkC mutant mice have a less dramatic phenotype than their NT3 counterparts implicates NT3 in signaling via receptors other than TrkC. Further studies, using combinatorial Trk and neurotrophin deletions, reveal that while BDNF and NT4 subserve distinct neuron populations in most cases, other neuron sub-populations can be supported by either BDNF or NT4, providing evidence for compensatory actions between neurotrophins. As a mechanism to explain programmed cell death that occurs in the developing nervous system, recent studies examining neurotrophin gene-dosage effects suggest that the availability of neurotrophins, NGF, BDNF and NT3, may be limiting for some neuron populations. In addition, the proposed switch in neurotrophin dependency for some neuron populations is now being determined using neurotrophin mutant mice. We discuss these and other recent findings on neurotrophin requirements for the developing nervous system.

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