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J Neurosci. 2003 Mar 1;23(5):1781-91.

Sensory neuron subtypes have unique substratum preference and receptor expression before target innervation.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Utah, School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah 84132-3401, USA.


The factors controlling the specification and subsequent differentiation of sensory neurons are poorly understood. Data from embryological manipulations suggest that either sensory neuron fates are specified by the targets they encounter or sensory neurons are considerably more "plastic" with respect to specification than are neurons of the CNS. The prevailing view that sensory neurons are specified late in development is not consistent, however, with the directed outgrowth of sensory neurons to their targets and the characteristic spatial distribution of sensory neuron fates within the peripheral ganglia. To address when in development different classes of sensory neurons can first be distinguished, we investigated the interactions of early dorsal root ganglia neurons with the extracellular matrix before neurite outgrowth to targets. We found that subclasses of sensory neurons in early dorsal root ganglia show different patterns of neurite outgrowth and integrin expression that are predictive of their fates. In the absence of neurotrophins, presumptive proprioceptive neurons extend neurites robustly on both laminin and fibronectin, whereas presumptive cutaneous neurons show a strong preference for laminin. Cutaneous afferents that have innervated targets show a similar strong preference for laminin and show higher levels of integrin alpha7beta1 than do proprioceptive neurons. Finally, presumptive proprioceptive neurons express fibronectin receptors, integrin alpha3beta1, alpha4beta1, and alpha5beta1, at higher levels than do presumptive cutaneous neurons. Our results indicate that subtypes of sensory neurons have unique patterns of neurite outgrowth and receptor expression before target innervation.

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