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Naturwissenschaften. 2005 Dec;92(12):549-61. Epub 2005 Oct 12.

Molecular mechanisms of optic axon guidance.

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Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Kumamoto University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, 1-1-1 Honjo, Kumamoto 860-8556, Japan.


Axon guidance is one of the critical processes during vertebrate central nervous system (CNS) development. The optic nerve, which contains the axons of retinal ganglion cells, has been used as a powerful model to elucidate some of the mechanisms underlying axon guidance because it is easily manipulated experimentally, and its function is well understood. Recent molecular biology studies have revealed that numerous guidance molecules control the development of the visual pathway. This review introduces the molecular mechanisms involved in each critical step during optic axon guidance. Axonal projections to the optic disc are thought to depend on adhesion molecules and inhibitory extracellular matrices such as chondroitin sulfate. The formation of the head of the optic nerve and the optic chiasm require ligand-receptor interactions between netrin-1 and the deleted in colorectal cancer receptor, and Slit proteins and Robo receptors, respectively. The gradient distributions of ephrin ligands and Eph receptors are essential for correct ipsilateral projections at the optic chiasm and the topographic mapping of axons in the superior colliculus/optic tectum. The precise gradient is regulated by transcription factors determining the retinal dorso-ventral and nasal-temporal polarities. Moreover, the axon guidance activities by Slit and semaphorin 5A require the existence of heparan sulfate, which binds to numerous guidance molecules. Recent discoveries about the molecular mechanisms underlying optic nerve guidance will facilitate progress in CNS developmental biology and axon-regeneration therapy.

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