Int. J. Dev. Biol. 44: 119 - 127 (2000)
© UPV/EHU Press

Orienting axon growth: spinal nerve segmentation and surround-repulsion.

D Tannahill, J M Britto, M M Vermeren, K Ohta, G M Cook and R J Keynes

Department of Anatomy, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

ABSTRACT The study of spinal nerve trajectories in higher vertebrate embryos has revealed an inherent polarity within somites along the antero-posterior axis, and provides a simple system in which to study the factors that influence axon pathfinding. We argue that the orientation of spinal axons is determined by the simultaneous operation of two distinct guidance mechanisms, contact repulsion and chemorepulsion. Motor and sensory axons traverse the anterior half of each somite because they are excluded by contact repulsion from the posterior half-somite, and the molecular nature of several candidate contact repellents is reviewed. In contrast, we find that the dorsoventral trajectory of primary sensory axons is oriented by diffusible repellents originating from the notochord medially and dermamyotome laterally. In this system, therefore, repulsion by surrounding tissues ('surround-repulsion') is the main force directing axon growth in three dimensions.