Superior cervical ganglia of postnatal mice with a targeted disruption of the gene for neurotrophin-3 have 50% fewer neurons than those of wild-type mice. In culture, neurotrophin-3 increases the survival of proliferating sympathetic precursors. Both precursor death (W. ElShamy et al., 1996, Development 122, 491-500) and, more recently, neuronal death (S. Wyatt et al., 1997, EMBO J. 16, 3115-3123) have been described in mice lacking NT-3. Consistent with the second report, we found that, in vivo, neurogenesis and precursor survival were unaffected by the absence of neurotrophin-3 but neuronal survival was compromised so that only 50% of the normal number of neurons survived to birth. At the time of neuron loss, neurotrophin-3 expression, assayed with a lacZ reporter, was detected in sympathetic target tissues and blood vessels, including those along which sympathetic axons grow, suggesting it may act as a retrograde neurotrophic factor, similar to nerve growth factor. To explore this possibility, we compared neuron loss in neurotrophin-3-deficient mice with that in nerve growth factor-deficient mice and found that neuronal losses occurred at approximately the same time in both mutants, but were less severe in mice lacking neurotrophin-3. Eliminating one or both neurotrophin-3 alleles in mice that lack nerve growth factor does not further reduce sympathetic neuron number in the superior cervical ganglion at E17.5 but does alter axon outgrowth and decrease salivary gland innervation. Taken together these results suggest that neurotrophin-3 is required for survival of some sympathetic neurons that also require nerve growth factor.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.