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J Neurobiol. 2005 Sep 15;64(4):435-45.

Signaling at the vertebrate synapse: new roles for embryonic morphogens?

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Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, University Street, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom.


The formation of synapses is critical for functional neuronal connectivity. The coordinated assembly at both sides of the synapse is fundamental for the proper apposition of the neurotransmitter release machinery on the presynaptic neuron and the clustering of neurotransmitter receptors and ion channels on the receptive postsynaptic cell. This process requires bidirectional communication between the presynaptic neuron and its postsynaptic target, another neuron, or muscle fiber. Extracellular signals such as WNT, TGF-beta, and FGF factors are emerging as key target-derived signals required for the initial stages of synaptic assembly. Studies in invertebrates are also providing new insights into the function of these signals in synaptic growth and homeostasis. During early embryonic patterning, WNT, TGF-beta, and FGF factors function as typical morphogens in a concentration-dependent manner to regulate cell fate decisions. This mode of action raises the provocative idea that these same morphogens might also provide a coordinate system for axons to establish the distance to their targets during axon guidance and synapse formation.

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