Recurrent DCC gene losses during bird evolution

Sci Rep. 2017 Feb 27;7:37569. doi: 10.1038/srep37569.


During development, midline crossing by axons brings into play highly conserved families of receptors and ligands. The interaction between the secreted ligand Netrin-1 and its receptor Deleted in Colorectal Carcinoma (DCC) is thought to control midline attraction of crossing axons. Here, we studied the evolution of this ligand/receptor couple in birds taking advantage of a wealth of newly sequenced genomes. From phylogeny and synteny analyses we can infer that the DCC gene has been conserved in most extant bird species, while two independent events have led to its loss in two avian groups, passeriformes and galliformes. These convergent accidental gene loss events are likely related to chromosome Z rearrangement. We show, using whole-mount immunostaining and 3Disco clearing, that in the nervous system of all birds that have a DCC gene, DCC protein expression pattern is similar to other vertebrates. Surprisingly, we show that the early developmental pattern of commissural tracts is comparable in all birds, whether or not they have a DCC receptor. Interestingly, only 4 of the 5 genes encoding secreted netrins, the DCC ligands in vertebrates, were found in birds, but Netrin-5 was absent. Together, these results support a remarkable plasticity of commissural axon guidance mechanisms in birds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avian Proteins / genetics*
  • Avian Proteins / metabolism
  • Axon Guidance
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Birds
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Conserved Sequence
  • DCC Receptor / genetics*
  • DCC Receptor / metabolism
  • Netrin-1 / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Deletion / genetics*
  • Vertebrates


  • Avian Proteins
  • DCC Receptor
  • Netrin-1