Signaling classically involves the secretion of diverse molecules that bind specific cell-surface receptors and engage intracellular transduction cascades. Some exceptions-namely, lipophilic agents-can cross plasma membranes to bind intracellular receptors and be carried to the nucleus to regulate transcription. Homeoprotein transcription factors are among the few proteins with such a capacity. Here, we review the signaling activities of homeoproteins in the developing and adult nervous system, with particular emphasis on axon/cell migration and postnatal critical periods of cerebral cortex plasticity. We also describe homeoprotein non-cell-autonomous mechanisms and explore how this "novel" signaling pathway impacts emerging research in brain development and physiology. In this context, we explore hypotheses on the evolution of signaling, the role of homeoproteins as early morphogens, and their therapeutic potential for neurological and psychiatric diseases.
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