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Letters to Nature
Nature 336, 775 - 778 (29 December 1988); doi:10.1038/336775a0

Chemotropic guidance of developing axons in the mammalian central nervous system

Marc Tessier-Lavigne*, Marysia Placzek*, Andrew G. S. Lumsden§, Jane Dodd* & Thomas M. Jessell*

*Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, Columbia University, New York 10032, USA §Department of Anatomy, Guy's Hospital Medical School, London, UK

In the developing nervous system, axons project considerable distances along stereotyped pathways to reach their targets. Axon guidance depends partly on the recognition of cell-surface and extracellular matrix cues derived from cells along the pathways1. It has also been proposed that neuronal growth cones are guided by gradients of chemoattractant molecules emanating from their intermediate or final cellular targets2. Although there is evidence that the axons of some peripheral neurons in vertebrates are guided by chemotropism3,4 and the directed growth of some central axons to their targets is consistent with such a mechanism5–7, it remains to be determined whether chemotropism operates in the central nervous system. During development of the spinal cord, commissural axons are deflected towards a specialized set of midline neural epithelial cells, termed the floor plate8–10, which could reflect guidance by substrate cues or by diffusible chemoattractant molecules. Here we provide evidence in support of chemotropic guidance by demonstrating that the rat floor-plate cells secrete a diffusible factor(s) that influences the pattern and orientation of commissural axon growth in vitro without affecting other embryonic spinal cord axons. These findings support the hypothesis2 that chemotropic mechanisms guide developing axons to their intermediate targets in the vertebrate CNS.

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