The generation of a functional nervous system involves a multitude of steps that are controlled by just a few families of extracellular signaling molecules. Among these, the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) family is particularly prominent for the remarkable diversity of its functions. FGFs are best known for their roles in the early steps of patterning of the neural primordium and proliferation of neural progenitors. However, other equally important functions have emerged more recently, including in the later steps of neuronal migration, axon navigation, and synaptogenesis. We review here these diverse functions and discuss the mechanisms that account for this unusual range of activities. FGFs are essential components of most protocols devised to generate therapeutically important neuronal populations in vitro or to stimulate neuronal repair in vivo. How FGFs promote the development of the nervous system and maintain its integrity will thus remain an important focus of research in the future.
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