Open Access Open Badges Research article

Pro-neurotrophins secreted from retinal ganglion cell axons are necessary for ephrinA-p75NTR-mediated axon guidance

Katharine JM Marler1, Subathra Poopalasundaram12, Emma R Broom1, Corinna Wentzel13 and Uwe Drescher1*

Author Affiliations

1 MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, King's College London, New Hunt's House, Guy's Campus, London SE1 1UL, UK

2 Centre for Neuroendocrinology, UCL, Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF, UK

3 Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Maulbeerstrasse 66, PO Box 2543, 4058 Basel, Switzerland

For all author emails, please log on.

Neural Development 2010, 5:30  doi:10.1186/1749-8104-5-30

Published: 2 November 2010



Retinotectal map formation develops via topographically specific guidance and branching of retinal axons in their target area. This process is controlled, in part, by reverse signalling of ephrinAs expressed on retinal axons. As glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored molecules, ephrinAs require transmembrane co-receptors to exert this function, for which the two neurotrophin receptors, p75NTR and TrkB, were recently proposed.


We show here that the ligands for these receptors, the brain-derived neurotrophic factor precursor (proBDNF) and its processed form, BDNF, respectively, control the branching of retinal axons antagonistically, which they mediate by inducing the corresponding neurotrophin receptor-ephrinA complexes. Moreover, scavenging proneurotrophins, by adding antibodies specific for the pro-domain of proBNDF or a soluble extracellular domain of p75NTR, abolish repellent ephrinA reverse signalling in the stripe assay.


This indicates that retinal cells secrete proneurotrophins, inducing the ephrinA-p75NTR interaction and enabling repellent axon guidance. The antagonistic functions of proBDNF and BDNF raise the possibility that topographic branching is controlled by local control of processing of proneurotrophins.