Motor neurons in the ventral neural tube project axons specifically to their target muscles in the periphery. Although many of the transcription factors that specify motor neuron cell fates have been characterized, less is understood about the mechanisms that guide motor axons to their correct targets. We show that ectopic expression of EphA4 receptor tyrosine kinase alters the trajectories of a specific population of motor axons in the avian hindlimb. Most motor neurons in the medial portion of the lateral motor column (LMC) extend their axons aberrantly in the dorsal nerve trunk at the level of the crural plexus, in the presence of ectopic EphA4. This misrouting of motor axons is not accompanied by alterations in motor neuron identity, settling patterns in the neural tube, or the fasciculation of spinal nerves. However, ectopic EphA4 axons do make errors in pathway selection during sorting in the plexus at the base of the hindlimb. These results suggest that EphA4 in motor neurons acts as a population-specific guidance cue to control the dorsal trajectory of their axons in the hindlimb.
(c) 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).