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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Inductive specification and axonal orientation of spinal neurons mediated by divergent bone morphogenetic protein signaling pathways

Jeanette C Perron12 and Jane Dodd12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, Columbia University, 630 West 168th Street (BB1103), New York, NY 10032, USA

2 Department of Neuroscience, Columbia University, 630 West 168th Street (BB1103), New York, NY 10032, USA

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Neural Development 2011, 6:36  doi:10.1186/1749-8104-6-36

Published: 15 November 2011



Bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)7 evokes both inductive and axon orienting responses in dorsal interneurons (dI neurons) in the developing spinal cord. These events occur sequentially during the development of spinal neurons but in these and other cell types such inductive and acute chemotactic responses occur concurrently, highlighting the requirement for divergent intracellular signaling. Both type I and type II BMP receptor subtypes have been implicated selectively in orienting responses but it remains unclear how, in a given cell, divergence occurs. We have examined the mechanisms by which disparate BMP7 activities are generated in dorsal spinal neurons.


We show that widely different threshold concentrations of BMP7 are required to elicit the divergent inductive and axon orienting responses. Type I BMP receptor kinase activity is required for activation of pSmad signaling and induction of dI character by BMP7, a high threshold response. In contrast, neither type I BMP receptor kinase activity nor Smad1/5/8 phosphorylation is involved in the low threshold orienting responses of dI axons to BMP7. Instead, BMP7-evoked axonal repulsion and growth cone collapse are dependent on phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) activation, plausibly through type II receptor signaling. BMP7 stimulates PI3K-dependent signaling in dI neurons. BMP6, which evokes neural induction but does not have orienting activity, activates Smad signaling but does not stimulate PI3K.


Divergent signaling through pSmad-dependent and PI3K-dependent (Smad-independent) mechanisms mediates the inductive and orienting responses of dI neurons to BMP7. A model is proposed whereby selective engagement of BMP receptor subunits underlies choice of signaling pathway.