Knowing How to Navigate: Mechanisms of Semaphorin Signaling in the Nervous System

Science's STKE  12 Feb 2002:
Vol. 2002, Issue 119, pp. re1
DOI: 10.1126/stke.2002.119.re1

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Neuronal connections are made during embryonic development with astonishing precision to ultimately form the physical basis for the central nervous system's main capacity: information processing. Over the past few decades, much has been learned about the general principles of axon guidance. A key finding to emerge is that extracellular cues play decisive roles in establishing the connections. One family of such cues, the semaphorin proteins, was first identified as repellents for navigating axons during brain wiring. Recent studies have implicated these molecules in many other processes of neuronal development, including axonal fasciculation, target selection, neuronal migration, and dendritic guidance, as well as in the remodeling and repair of the adult nervous system. It appears that responding neuronal processes sense these semaphorin signals by a family of transmembrane molecules, namely the plexins, even though neuropilins were also found to be required for mediating the interaction between plexins and class 3 semaphorins. Our understanding of the intracellular signaling machinery linking the receptors to the cytoskeleton machinery is still incomplete, but several molecules have been implicated in mediating or modulating semaphorin-induced responses. Adding to the complexity of semaphorin biology, new findings implicate semaphorins in functioning not only as signaling ligands, but also as signal-transducing receptors. Thus, semaphorins may serve as important probes for exploring the mechanisms of intercellular communication during the development and function of the nervous system.

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