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Dev Biol. 2008 Nov 15;323(2):143-51. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.08.027. Epub 2008 Sep 5.

Netrin, Slit and Wnt receptors allow axons to choose the axis of migration.

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Department of Chemistry and Biology, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5B 2K3.


One of the challenges to understanding nervous system development has been to establish how a fairly limited number of axon guidance cues can set up the patterning of very complex nervous systems. Studies on organisms with relatively simple nervous systems such as Drosophila melanogaster and C. elegans have provided many insights into axon guidance mechanisms. The axons of many neurons migrate along both the dorsal-ventral (DV) and the anterior-posterior (AP) axes at different phases of development, and in addition they may also cross the midline. Axon migration in the dorsal-ventral (DV) direction is mainly controlled by Netrins with their receptors; UNC-40/DCC and UNC-5, and the Slits with their receptors; Robo/SAX-3. Axon guidance in the anterior-posterior (AP) axis is mainly controlled by Wnts with their receptors; the Frizzleds/Fz. An individual axon may be subjected to opposing attractive and repulsive forces coming from opposite sides in the same axis but there may also be opposing cues in the other axis of migration. All the information from the cues has to be integrated within the growth cone at the leading edge of the migrating axon to elicit a response. Recent studies have provided insight into how this is achieved. Evidence suggests that the axis of axon migration is determined by the manner in which Netrin, Slit and Wnt receptors are polarized (localized) within the neuron prior to axon outgrowth. The same molecules are involved in both axon outgrowth and axon guidance, for at least some neurons in C. elegans, whether the cue is the attractive cue UNC-6/Netrin working though UNC-40/DCC or the repulsive cue SLT-1/Slit working though the receptor SAX-3/Robo (Adler et al., 2006, Chang et al., 2006, Quinn et al., 2006, 2008). The molecules involved in cell signaling in this case are polarized within the cell body of the neuron before process outgrowth and direct the axon outgrowth. Expression of the Netrin receptor UNC-40/DCC or the Slit receptor SAX-3/Robo in axons that normally migrate in the AP direction causes neuronal polarity reversal in a Netrin and Slit independent manner (Levy-Strumpf and Culotti 2007, Watari-Goshima et al., 2007). Localization of the receptors in this case is caused by the kinesin-related VAB-8L which appears to govern the site of axon outgrowth in these neurons by causing receptor localization. Therefore, asymmetric localization of axon guidance receptors is followed by axon outgrowth in vivo using the receptor's normal cue, either attractive, repulsive or unknown cues.

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