The chemoaffinity hypothesis for neural circuit assembly posits that axons and their targets bear matching molecular labels that endow neurons with unique identities and specify synapses between appropriate partners. Here, we focus on two intriguing candidates for fulfilling this role, Drosophila Dscams and vertebrate clustered protocadherins (Pcdhs). In each, a complex genomic locus encodes large numbers of neuronal transmembrane proteins with homophilic binding specificity, individual members of which are expressed combinatorially. Although these properties suggest that Dscams and Pcdhs could act as specificity molecules, they may do so in ways that challenge traditional views of how neural circuits assemble.
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