Axon guidance receptors guide neuronal growth cones by binding in trans to axon guidance ligands in the developing nervous system. Some ligands are coexpressed in cis with their receptors, raising the question of the relative contribution of cis and trans interactions to axon guidance. Spinal motor axons use Eph receptors to select a limb trajectory in response to trans ephrins, while expressing ephrins in cis. We show that changes in motor neuron ephrin expression result in trajectory selection defects mirrored by changes in growth cone sensitivity to ephrins in vitro, arguing for ephrin cis-attenuation of Eph function. Furthermore, the relative contribution of trans-signaling and cis-attenuation is influenced by the subcellular distribution of ephrins to membrane patches containing Eph receptors. Thus, growth cone ephrins are essential for axon guidance in vivo and the balance between cis and trans modes of axon guidance ligand-receptor interaction contributes to the diversity of axon guidance signaling responses.
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