The role of cell adhesion molecules in visual circuit formation: from neurite outgrowth to maps and synaptic specificity

Dev Neurobiol. 2015 Jun;75(6):569-83. doi: 10.1002/dneu.22267. Epub 2015 Feb 19.


The formation of visual circuitry is a multistep process that involves cell-cell interactions based on a range of molecular mechanisms. The correct implementation of individual events, including axon outgrowth and guidance, the formation of the topographic map, or the synaptic targeting of specific cellular subtypes, are prerequisites for a fully functional visual system that is able to appropriately process the information captured by the eyes. Cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) with their adhesive properties and their high functional diversity have been identified as key actors in several of these fundamental processes. Because of their growth-promoting properties, CAMs play an important role in neuritogenesis. Furthermore, they are necessary to control additional neurite development, regulating dendritic spacing and axon pathfinding. Finally, trans-synaptic interactions of CAMs ensure cell type-specific connectivity as a basis for the establishment of circuits processing distinct visual features. Recent discoveries implicating CAMs in novel mechanisms have led to a better general understanding of neural circuit formation, but also revealed an increasing complexity of their function. This review aims at describing the different levels of action for CAMs to shape neural connectivity, with a special focus on the visual system.

Keywords: axon pathfinding; cell adhesion molecules; synaptic targeting; topographic map; visual system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism*
  • Cell Communication
  • Humans
  • Neurites / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retina / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / cytology*
  • Visual Pathways / metabolism


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules