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EMBO J. 2009 May 20;28(10):1479-91. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2009.73. Epub 2009 Mar 26.

Developmental waves of mechanosensitivity acquisition in sensory neuron subtypes during embryonic development.

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Department of Neuroscience, Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Berlin-Buch, Germany.


Somatic sensation relies on the transduction of physical stimuli into electrical signals by sensory neurons of the dorsal root ganglia. Little is known about how and when during development different types of sensory neurons acquire transduction competence. We directly investigated the emergence of electrical excitability and mechanosensitivity of embryonic and postnatal mouse sensory neurons. We show that sensory neurons acquire mechanotransduction competence coincident with peripheral target innervation. Mechanotransduction competence arises in different sensory lineages in waves, coordinated by distinct developmental mechanisms. Sensory neurons that are mechanoreceptors or proprioceptors acquire mature mechanotransduction indistinguishable from the adult already at E13. This process is independent of neurotrophin-3 and may be driven by a genetic program. In contrast, most nociceptive (pain sensing) sensory neurons acquire mechanosensitive competence as a result of exposure to target-derived nerve growth factor. The highly regulated process of mechanosensory acquisition unveiled here, reveals new strategies to identify molecules required for sensory neuron mechanotransduction.

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