Neurotrophins and their receptors, the Trks, are differentially expressed among the cell types that make up neuromuscular and other synapses, but the function and directionality of neurotrophin signaling at synapses are poorly understood. Here we demonstrate, via immunostaining, Western blotting, and RT-PCR analyses, that TrkC, the receptor for neurotrophin-3 (NT3), is expressed by mouse perisynaptic and myelinating Schwann cells from birth through adulthood and is unaltered after denervation. Analyses of transgenic mice in which the NT3 coding sequence is replaced by lacZ showed that NT3 is expressed in motor neurons and Schwann cells during perinatal development, but not in adult mice. In muscle, NT3 is expressed by intrafusal muscle fibers within spindles, as has been previously reported. Surprisingly, NT3 is also expressed in extrafusal muscle fibers during perinatal life and in adults. Genetic approaches were used to explore the roles of NT3 and TrkC signaling at neuromuscular synapses. Overexpression of NT3 in muscle fibers during development resulted in an increased number of perisynaptic Schwann cells at neuromuscular synapses, without altering synaptic size, suggesting that muscle-derived NT3 might act as a mitogen or trophic factor for Schwann cells. Conditional deletion of NT3 from motor neurons did not alter the number of Schwann cells or other aspects of neuromuscular synaptic structure, suggesting that motor-neuron-derived NT3 is not required for normal development of perisynaptic Schwann cells or synapses. Together, these results demonstrate that NT3 expression is developmentally regulated in skeletal muscle and may modulate the number of Schwann cells at neuromuscular synapses.
(c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.