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J Neurobiol. 2000 Aug;44(2):219-29.

Molecular basis of semaphorin-mediated axon guidance.

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Department of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.


The semaphorin family of proteins constitute one of the major cues for axonal guidance. The prototypic member of this family is Sema3A, previously designated semD/III or collapsin-1. Sema3A acts as a diffusible, repulsive guidance cue in vivo for the peripheral projections of embryonic dorsal root ganglion neurons. Sema3A binds with high affinity to neuropilin-1 on growth cone filopodial tips. Although neuropilin-1 is required for Sema3A action, it is incapable of transmitting a Sema3A signal to the growth cone interior. Instead, the Sema3A/neuropilin-1 complex interacts with another transmembrane protein, plexin, on the surface of growth cones. Certain semaphorins, other than Sema3A, can bind directly to plexins. The intracellular domain of plexin is responsible for initiating the signal transduction cascade leading to growth cone collapse, axon repulsion, or growth cone turning. This intracellular cascade involves the monomeric G-protein, Rac1, and a family of neuronal proteins, the CRMPs. Rac1 is likely to be involved in semaphorin-induced rearrangements of the actin cytoskeleton, but how plexin controls Rac1 activity is not known. Vertebrate CRMPs are homologous to the Caenorhabditis elegans unc-33 protein, which is required for proper axon morphology in worms. CRMPs are essential for Sema3A-induced, neuropilin-plexin-mediated growth cone collapse, but the molecular interactions of growth cone CRMPs are not well defined. Mechanistic aspects of plexin-based signaling for semaphorin guidance cues may have implications for other axon guidance events and for the basis of growth cone motility.

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