Trk receptors: roles in neuronal signal transduction

Annu Rev Biochem. 2003:72:609-42. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.72.121801.161629. Epub 2003 Mar 27.


Trk receptors are a family of three receptor tyrosine kinases, each of which can be activated by one or more of four neurotrophins-nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and neurotrophins 3 and 4 (NT3 and NT4). Neurotrophin signaling through these receptors regulates cell survival, proliferation, the fate of neural precursors, axon and dendrite growth and patterning, and the expression and activity of functionally important proteins, such as ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors. In the adult nervous system, the Trk receptors regulate synaptic strength and plasticity. The cytoplasmic domains of Trk receptors contain several sites of tyrosine phosphorylation that recruit intermediates in intracellular signaling cascades. As a result, Trk receptor signaling activates several small G proteins, including Ras, Rap-1, and the Cdc-42-Rac-Rho family, as well as pathways regulated by MAP kinase, PI 3-kinase and phospholipase-C-gamma (PLC-gamma). Trk receptor activation has different consequences in different cells, and the specificity of downstream Trk receptor-mediated signaling is controlled through expression of intermediates in these signaling pathways and membrane trafficking that regulates localization of different signaling constituents. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Trk receptor-mediated signaling is its interplay with signaling promoted by the pan-neurotrophin receptor p75NTR. p75NTR activates a distinct set of signaling pathways within cells that are in some instances synergistic and in other instances antagonistic to those activated by Trk receptors. Several of these are proapoptotic but are suppressed by Trk receptor-initiated signaling. p75NTR also influences the conformations of Trk receptors; this modifies ligand-binding specificity and affinity with important developmental consequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / chemistry
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / physiology*
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • GTP-Binding Proteins