Susan Birren, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
May 30, 1995
Neurotrophins and the Control of Peripheral Neuronal Development
The enormous complexity of nervous system function results from interactions between a vast number of different neuronal cell types. To begin addressing how this diversity is generated, we have been studying how sympathetic neurons develop from uncommitted embryonic precursor cells.
We have shown that the neurotrophic factors nerve growth factor (NGF) and neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) act sequentially on these developing neurons to support their survival during differentiation. Other factors such as fibroblast growth factor act as initial triggers of this differentiation process.
Taken together, these studies have demonstrated how precursor cells can develop under the influence of local factors (NT-3 and FGF), and eventually be supported by factors (NGF) produced by distant targets of sympathetic innervation. These developmental switches in factor responsiveness are likely to represent a general mechanism of nervous system development.