Int. J. Dev. Biol. 48: 957 - 964 (2004)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.041899fm
© UBC Press

New views on retinal axon development: a navigation guide

Fanny Mann1, William A. Harris2 and Christine E. Holt*,2

1INSERM U382, IBDM, Campus de Luminy, Marseille, France and 2Department of Anatomy, University of Cambridge, U.K.

ABSTRACT The eye is a peripheral outpost of the central nervous system (CNS) where the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) reside. RGC axons navigate to their targets in a remarkably stereotyped and error-free manner and it is this process of directed growth that underlies the complex organization of the adult brain. The RGCs are the only retinal neurons to project into the brain and their peripheral location makes them an unusually accessible population of projection neurons for experiments involving in vivo gene transfer, anatomical tracing, transplantation and in vitro culture. In this paper, we review recent findings that have contributed to our understanding of some of the guidance decisions that axons make in the developing visual system. We look at two choice points in the pathway, the optic nerve head (onh) and the midline chiasm, and discuss evidence that supports the idea that key molecules in guiding axon growth at these junctures are netrin-1 (onh) and ephrin-B (chiasm). In the optic tectum where RGC axon terminals are arrayed in topographic order, we present experimental evidence to suggest that in the dorso-ventral dimension, the B-type ephrins and Eph receptors are of prime importance, possibly through attractive interactions. This complements the anterior-posterior topographic mapping known to be mediated through A-type ephrin/Eph repulsive interactions. An emerging theme is that guidance molecules such as ephrin-B and netrin-1 have complex patterns of restricted expression in the pathway and play multiple and changing roles in axon guidance.

Keywords:

retina, axon guidance, netrin, Eph receptor, ephrin

*Corresponding author e-mail: ceh@mole.bio.cam.ac.uk