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Neuron. 2009 Dec 24;64(6):857-70. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.12.004.

Low-threshold mechanoreceptor subtypes selectively express MafA and are specified by Ret signaling.

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INSERM U-583, F34091 Montpellier, France.


Low-threshold mechanoreceptor neurons (LTMs) of the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) are essential for touch sensation. They form highly specialized terminations in the skin and display stereotyped projections in the spinal cord. Functionally defined LTMs depend on neurotrophin signaling for their postnatal survival and functioning, but how these neurons arise during development is unknown. Here, we show that specific types of LTMs can be identified shortly after DRG genesis by unique expression of the MafA transcription factor, the Ret receptor and coreceptor GFRalpha2, and find that their specification is Ngn2 dependent. In mice lacking Ret, these LTMs display early differentiation defects, as revealed by reduced MafA expression, and at later stages their central and peripheral projections are compromised. Moreover, in MafA mutants, a discrete subset of LTMs display altered expression of neurotrophic factor receptors. Our results provide evidence that genetic interactions involving Ret and MafA progressively promote the differentiation and diversification of LTMs.

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