Nerve growth factor receptor TrkA is down-regulated during postnatal development by a subset of dorsal root ganglion neurons

J Comp Neurol. 1997 May 19;381(4):428-38. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1096-9861(19970519)381:4<428::aid-cne3>;2-4.


Nerve growth factor (NGF), signaling through its receptor tyrosine kinase, TrkA, is required for the survival of all small and many intermediate-sized murine dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons during development, accounting for 80% of the total DRG population. Surprisingly, NGF/TrkA-dependent neurons include a large population that does not express TrkA in adult mice (Silos-Santiago et al., 1995). This finding suggests two hypotheses: Neurons lacking TrkA in the adult may express TrkA during development, or they may be maintained through a paracrine mechanism by TrkA-expressing neurons. To determine whether TrkA is expressed transiently by DRG neurons that lack the receptor in adulthood, we examined the distribution of TrkA protein during development. We show here that TrkA expression is strikingly developmentally regulated. Eighty percent of DRG neurons expressed TrkA during embryogenesis and early postnatal life, whereas only 43% expressed TrkA at postnatal day (P) 21. Because the period of TrkA down-regulation corresponds with a critical period during which nociceptive phenotype can be altered by NGF (see Lewin and Mendell [1993] Trends Neurosci. 16:353-359), we examined whether NGF modulates the down-regulation of TrkA. Surprisingly, neither NGF deprivation nor augmentation altered the extent of TrkA down-regulation. Our results demonstrate a novel form of regulation of neurotrophin receptor expression that occurs late in development. All DRG neurons that require NGF for survival express TrkA during embryogenesis, and many continue to express TrkA during a postnatal period when neuronal phenotype is regulated by NGF. The subsequent down-regulation of TrkA is likely to be importantly related to functional distinctions among nociceptive neurons in maturity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Down-Regulation
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development
  • Ganglia, Spinal / embryology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / growth & development
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental* / drug effects
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice
  • Nerve Growth Factors / pharmacology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / biosynthesis*
  • Receptor, trkA
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor / biosynthesis*


  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Receptor, trkA