Axons are guided along their trajectories during development by many different systems of adhesion, attraction, and repulsion. Thus, many distinct, and potentially competing, receptor systems respond to environmental cues, and the information must be coordinated inside the growth cone to ensure that extension follows the appropriate path. In this brief review we bring together two studies, each of which has defined different aspects of a pathway through which N-cadherin regulates beta1-integrin function allowing for coordinated responses to environmental cues during neurite extension. First we review progress in defining the binding to cells and the subsequent effects on adhesion and neurite outgrowth of the chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan, neurocan. Neurocan binds to a cell surface glycosyltransferase associated with N-cadherin (but not integrin), initiating a signal which results in loss of cadherin and integrin-function-suggesting that these two adhesion receptor systems engage in cross-talk, allowing coordinate regulation. Second, we review the use of "Trojan" peptides, peptides which mimic specific sequences in the cytoplasmic domain of N-cadherin attached to a cell permeation sequence, to reveal protein-protein interactions critical to cadherin-integrin cross-talk. One peptide mimicking a 20 amino acid sequence in the juxtamembrane region of N-cadherin has the same effect as neurocan, blocking both cadherin- and integrin-mediated adhesion and neurite outgrowth. Both neurocan and the peptide cause the release of the non-receptor tyrosine kinase Fer from the cadherin complex and its binding to the integrin complex. These data define an epigenetic pathway through which environmental cues are capable of coordinately regulating the activity of two developmentally important adhesion systems.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.