The Slit gene encodes a secreted molecule essential for neural development in Drosophila embryos. Here we report the identification of three Slit homologues in the mouse. We demonstrate that the mouse SLIT1 protein can bind ROBO1, a transmembrane receptor implicated in axon guidance. Both whole-mount and section in situ hybridization studies reveal unique and complementary patterns of expression of the three mouse Slit genes and of Robo1, both within the central nervous system and in other developing tissues. The complementary expression patterns of Slit and Robo1 and their in vitro interaction suggest a ligand-receptor relationship. The expression of all three Slit genes in the floor plate suggests that they are likely to share the same functional properties with their Drosophila homologue in midline neural development and axon guidance. The complementary expression of Slit and Robo1 in different subdivisions of the somites suggests their possible function in axon pathfinding and neural crest cell migration. The unique expression pattern in limb and other organs indicates additional potential functions of the Slit gene family.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.