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Cell Death Differ. 1998 May;5(5):357-64.

Neurotrophins: the biological paradox of survival factors eliciting apoptosis.

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Molecular Neurobiology Program, Skirball Institute, 540 First Avenue, New York, USA 10016, USA.


Neurotrophins are target-derived soluble polypeptides required for neuronal survival. Binding of neurotrophins to Trk receptor tyrosine kinases initiate signaling cascades that promote cell survival and differentiation. All family members bind to another receptor (p75NTR), which belongs to the tumor necrosis factor superfamily. Hence, nerve growth factor (NGF) and related trophic factors are unique in that two separate receptor types are utilized. Although the biological function of p75NTR has been elusive, it has been suggested to mediate apoptosis of developing neurons in the absence of Trk receptors. This presents a tantalizing paradigm, in which life-death decisions of cells are dependent upon the expression and action of two different receptors with distinctive signaling mechanisms. In the presence of TrkA receptors, p75 can participate in the formation of high affinity binding sites and enhanced NGF responsiveness leading to a survival signal. In the absence of TrkA receptors, p75 can generate, in only specific cell populations, a death signal. Here we discuss the unique features and implications of this unusual signal transduction system.

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