Neurotrophic actions of GDNF and neurturin in the developing avian nervous system and cloning and expression of their receptors
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The main aim of this project was to determine the neurotrophic actions of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and neurturin, two novel members of the transforming growth factor-beta superfamily of proteins, on neurons from the peripheral nervous system and to identify their receptors. It is found that GDNF promotes the survival of multiple populations of chicken sensory and autonomic neurons in culture throughout development. Whereas sympathetic, parasympathetic and propioceptive neurons become less responsive to GDNF with age, enteroceptive and sensory cutaneous neurons become more responsive to GDNF. GDNF mRNA is expressed in the tissues innervated by these neurons, and developmental changes in its expression in several tissues mirror the changing responses of the innervating neurons to GDNF. These results have changed the previous notion that GDNF is a highly specific neurotrophic factor for motoneurons and dopaminergic neurons. It is shown that neurturin, which is structurally related to GDNF, also promotes the in vitro survival of embryonic chicken sensory and autonomic neurons. Thus, GDNF and neurturin compose a novel subfamily of homologous neurotrophic factors with a similar pattern of activity. The cloning of chicken GDNF receptor-α (GDNFR-α) and a novel receptor termed neurturin receptor-α (NTNR-α) is reported. GDNFR-α and NTNR-α are homologous receptors linked to the membrane via a glycosyl- phosphatidylinositol linkage. It is shown that ectopic co-expression in neurons of GDNFR-α with RET (rearranged during transfection), a transmembrane receptor tyrosine kinase, confers a survival response to GDNF, but not neurturin, and that co-expression of NTNR-α with RET confers a survival response to neurturin, but not GDNF. GDNFR-α and NTNR-α mRNAs are widely expressed in the nervous system, including GDNF and neurturin responsive neurons, and in non-neuronal tissues. These findings indicate that GDNF and neurturin promote neuronal survival by signalling via similar multicomponent receptors that consist of a common transducing receptor tyrosine kinase and a member of a newly emerging family of glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol-linked receptors that confer ligand- specificity.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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