Neurotrophic factors support the development of motoneurons by several possible mechanisms. Neurotrophins may act as target-derived factors or as afferent factors derived from the central nervous system (CNS) or sensory ganglia. We tested whether brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin 3 (NT-3), neurotrophin 4 (NT-4), and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) may be target-derived factors for neurons in the oculomotor (MIII) or trochlear (MIV) nucleus in chick embryos. Radio-iodinated BDNF, NT-3, NT-4, and GDNF accumulated in oculomotor neurons via retrograde axonal transport when the trophic factors were applied to the target. Systemic GDNF rescued oculomotor neurons from developmental cell death, while BDNF and NT-3 had no effect. BDNF enhanced neurite outgrowth from explants of MIII and MIV nuclei (identified by retrograde labeling in ovo with the fluorescent tracer DiI), while GDNF, NT-3, and NT-4 had no effect. The oculomotor neurons were immunoreactive for BDNF and the BDNF receptors p75(NTR) and trkB. To determine whether BDNF may be derived from its target or may act as an autocrine or paracrine factor, in situ hybridization and deprivation studies were performed. BDNF mRNA expression was detected in eye muscles, but not in CNS sources of afferent innervation to MIII, or the oculomotor complex itself. Injection of trkB fusion proteins in the eye muscle reduced BDNF immunoreactivity in the innervating motoneurons. These data indicate that BDNF trophic support for the oculomotor neurons was derived from their target.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.