Concentration-dependent requirement for local protein synthesis in motor neuron subtype-specific response to axon guidance cues

J Neurosci. 2012 Jan 25;32(4):1496-506. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4176-11.2012.


Formation of functional motor circuits relies on the ability of distinct spinal motor neuron subtypes to project their axons with high precision to appropriate muscle targets. While guidance cues contributing to motor axon pathfinding have been identified, the intracellular pathways underlying subtype-specific responses to these cues remain poorly understood. In particular, it remains controversial whether responses to axon guidance cues depend on axonal protein synthesis. Using a growth cone collapse assay, we demonstrate that mouse embryonic stem cell-derived spinal motor neurons (ES-MNs) respond to ephrin-A5, Sema3f, and Sema3a in a concentration-dependent manner. At low doses, ES-MNs exhibit segmental or subtype-specific responses, while this selectivity is lost at higher concentrations. Response to high doses of semaphorins and to all doses of ephrin-A5 is protein synthesis independent. In contrast, using microfluidic devices and stripe assays, we show that growth cone collapse and guidance at low concentrations of semaphorins rely on local protein synthesis in the axonal compartment. Similar bimodal response to low and high concentrations of guidance cues is observed in human ES-MNs, pointing to a general mechanism by which neurons increase their repertoire of responses to the limited set of guidance cues involved in neural circuit formation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cues*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / physiology
  • Ephrin-A5 / administration & dosage
  • Ephrin-A5 / physiology
  • Growth Cones / pathology
  • Growth Cones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology
  • Mice
  • Motor Neurons / classification
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology
  • Protein Biosynthesis / physiology*
  • Semaphorin-3A
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology


  • Ephrin-A5
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Sema3f protein, mouse
  • Semaphorin-3A