DSCAM promotes self-avoidance in the developing mouse retina by masking the functions of cadherin superfamily members.

Andrew M. Garrett, The Jackson Laboratory
Andre Khalil
David O Walton, The Jackson Laboratory
Robert W. Burgess, The Jackson Laboratory

We thank Keith Sheppard for assistance with Image Echelon, and our colleagues at The Jackson Laboratory for performing image comparisons. We also thank Dr. Joshua Sanes and Dr. Joshua Weiner and members of the R.W.B. laboratory for helpful discussion of the manuscript.


During neural development, self-avoidance ensures that a neuron's processes arborize to evenly fill a particular spatial domain. At the individual cell level, self-avoidance is promoted by genes encoding cell-surface molecules capable of generating thousands of diverse isoforms, such as Dscam1 (Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule 1) in Drosophila Isoform choice differs between neighboring cells, allowing neurons to distinguish "self" from "nonself". In the mouse retina, Dscam promotes self-avoidance at the level of cell types, but without extreme isoform diversity. Therefore, we hypothesize that DSCAM is a general self-avoidance cue that "masks" other cell type-specific adhesion systems to prevent overly exuberant adhesion. Here, we provide in vivo and in vitro evidence that DSCAM masks the functions of members of the cadherin superfamily, supporting this hypothesis. Thus, unlike the isoform-rich molecules tasked with self-avoidance at the individual cell level, here the diversity resides on the adhesive side, positioning DSCAM as a generalized modulator of cell adhesion during neural development.