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Neuroscience. 1994 Jan;58(2):347-52.

Role of neurotrophins in the control of neural development: neurotrophin-3 promotes both neuron differentiation and survival of cultured chick retinal cells.

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Instituto Cajal de Neurobiología, CSIC, Madrid, Spain.


The effects of neurotrophins brain-derived neurotrophic factor and neurotrophin-3 on cultured dissociated cells from chick retina were studied at several embryonic ages from day 4 to day 13. Precursor cells from days 4-7 retinas proliferated in vitro and, after 20 h in culture, a proportion of them underwent spontaneous differentiation, as judged by both [3H]thymidine uptake and acquisition of neuronal morphology and neuron-specific markers. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor did not affect neuronal differentiation, although this factor supports survival of differentiated retinal ganglion cells [Rodríguez-Tébar et al. (1989) Devl Biol. 136, 296-303]. However, in cultures from young undifferentiated retinas, neurotrophin-3 produced up to a 2.5-fold increase in the number of [3H]thymidine-positive neurons, i.e. those that in vitro replicated their DNA. Moreover, in older retinas, neurotrophin-3, like brain-derived neurotrophic factor, supported the survival of differentiated retinal ganglion cells over a short developmental period. This effect was negligible at embryonic day 5, maximal at day 9, decreased at day 11 and was absent at embryonic day 13. Neurotrophin-3 also supported the survival of a population of amacrine neurons. This effect was modest at embryonic day 9, and increased at days 11 and 13. Our results show that, whereas the action of brain-derived neurotrophic factor is restricted to differentiated neurons, neurotrophin-3 exerts two distinct successive actions on retinal cells in vitro: first, this factor promotes either differentiation of neuroepithelial cells or maturation of recently differentiated neurons, and later in development, this factor supports the survival of differentiated retinal ganglion and amacrine cells but only during a discrete post-differentiation period.

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