Motor axon guidance of the mammalian trochlear and phrenic nerves: dependence on the netrin receptor Unc5c and modifier loci.

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Axons, Mice-Inbred-C57BL, Motor-Neurons, Phenotype, Phrenic-Nerve, Quantitative-Trait-Loci, Receptors-Cell-Surface, Receptors-Nerve-Growth-Factor, Research-Support-N, I, H, -Extramural, Research-Support-Non-U, S, -Gov't, Trochlear-Nerve

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J Neurosci 2006 May; 26(21):5756-66.


Netrin signaling is important to guide migrating neurons and axons in many systems. Experiments with vertebrate CNS explants suggested netrin is bifunctional, attracting some axons and repelling others. Netrin1-expressing cells attracted spinal commissural axons and repelled trochlear cranial nerve axons in these experiments. Subsequent genetic studies demonstrated that multiple axon types, including those of the spinal commissural neurons, are attracted to netrin in vivo; however, an in vivo role for netrin signaling in trochlear nerve repulsion has not been observed. Here, we demonstrate that mice with a null mutation in the netrin receptor Unc5c on the inbred C57BL/6J (B6) genetic background have ventral/ipsilateral trochlear nerve misprojections. These misprojections are attenuated on a hybrid B6 x SJL background. In addition, B6.Unc5c(-/-) mice die as neonates of apparent respiratory distress and have incomplete phrenic nerve innervation of the diaphragm muscle. Neither the trochlear nerve misprojections nor the phrenic nerve phenotype was observed in B6 embryos lacking the netrin receptors DCC or Neogenin1, or the ligand netrin1, indicating these signaling molecules are dispensable for guidance of these axons. Like the trochlear nerve, the phrenic nerve phenotype is modified in a B6 x SJL hybrid background. To identify these modifier loci, we performed genome scans of the hybrid Unc5c(-/-) mice and found a major SJL-derived suppressor locus on Chromosome 17. Our results provide the first evidence that genes involved in netrin signaling are necessary for proper mammalian spinal motor axon development and trochlear axon guidance. In addition, they demonstrate the importance of modifier genes in vertebrate axonal guidance.