During nervous system development, gradients of Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) and Netrin-1 attract growth cones of commissural axons toward the floor plate of the embryonic spinal cord. Mice defective for either Shh or Netrin-1 signaling have commissural axon guidance defects, suggesting that both Shh and Netrin-1 are required for correct axon guidance. However, how Shh and Netrin-1 collaborate to guide axons is not known. We first quantified the steepness of the Shh gradient in the spinal cord and found that it is mostly very shallow. We then developed an in vitro microfluidic guidance assay to simulate these shallow gradients. We found that axons of dissociated commissural neurons respond to steep but not shallow gradients of Shh or Netrin-1. However, when we presented axons with combined Shh and Netrin-1 gradients, they had heightened sensitivity to the guidance cues, turning in response to shallower gradients that were unable to guide axons when only one cue was present. Furthermore, these shallow gradients polarized growth cone Src-family kinase (SFK) activity only when Shh and Netrin-1 were combined, indicating that SFKs can integrate the two guidance cues. Together, our results indicate that Shh and Netrin-1 synergize to enable growth cones to sense shallow gradients in regions of the spinal cord where the steepness of a single guidance cue is insufficient to guide axons, and we identify a novel type of synergy that occurs when the steepness (and not the concentration) of a guidance cue is limiting.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)