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Development 135 (23): 3839-3848

Dscam guides embryonic axons by Netrin-dependent and -independent functions

Gracie L. Andrews1, Shawna Tanglao1, W. Todd Farmer1, Steves Morin2, Steven Brotman1, Michael A. Berberoglu1, Hilary Price1, George C. Fernandez3, Grant S. Mastick1, Frédéric Charron2,4, and Thomas Kidd1,*

1 Department of Biology/ms 314, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557, USA.
2 Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM), 110 avenue des Pins Ouest, Montreal, Quebec H2W 1R7, Canada.
3 Center for Research Design and Analysis/ms 088, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557, USA.
4 Department of Medicine, University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

* Author for correspondence (e-mail: tkidd{at}unr.edu)

Accepted for publication 22 September 2008.

Abstract: Developing axons are attracted to the CNS midline by Netrin proteins and other as yet unidentified signals. Netrin signals are transduced in part by Frazzled (Fra)/DCC receptors. Genetic analysis in Drosophila indicates that additional unidentified receptors are needed to mediate the attractive response to Netrin. Analysis of Bolwig's nerve reveals that Netrin mutants have a similar phenotype to Down Syndrome Cell Adhesion Molecule (Dscam) mutants. Netrin and Dscam mutants display dose sensitive interactions, suggesting that Dscam could act as a Netrin receptor. We show using cell overlay assays that Netrin binds to fly and vertebrate Dscam, and that Dscam binds Netrin with the same affinity as DCC. At the CNS midline, we find that Dscam and its paralog Dscam3 act redundantly to promote midline crossing. Simultaneous genetic knockout of the two Dscam genes and the Netrin receptor fra produces a midline crossing defect that is stronger than the removal of Netrin proteins, suggesting that Dscam proteins also function in a pathway parallel to Netrins. Additionally, overexpression of Dscam in axons that do not normally cross the midline is able to induce ectopic midline crossing, consistent with an attractive receptor function. Our results support the model that Dscam proteins function as attractive receptors for Netrin and also act in parallel to Frazzled/DCC. Furthermore, the results suggest that Dscam proteins have the ability to respond to multiple ligands and act as receptors for an unidentified midline attractive cue. These functions in axon guidance have implications for the pathogenesis of Down Syndrome.

Key Words: Drosophila genetics • Axon guidance • Body patterning • Cell migration • Central nervous system • Signal transduction


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