2017-08-08 , Public Library of Science (PLoS)
Neural circuits are wired by chemotactic migration of growth cones guided by extracellular guidance cue gradients. How growth cone chemotaxis builds the macroscopic structure of the neural circuit is a fundamental question in neuroscience. I addressed this issue in the case of the ordered axonal projections called topographic maps in the retinotectal system. In the retina and tectum, the erythropoietin-producing hepatocellular (Eph) receptors and their ligands, the ephrins, are expressed in gradients. According to Sperry’s chemoaffinity theory, gradients in both the source and target areas enable projecting axons to recognize their proper terminals, but how axons chemotactically decode their destinations is largely unknown. To identify the chemotactic mechanism of topographic mapping, I developed a mathematical model of intracellular signaling in the growth cone that focuses on the growth cone’s unique chemotactic property of being attracted or repelled by the same guidance cues in different biological situations. The model presented mechanism by which the retinal growth cone reaches the correct terminal zone in the tectum through alternating chemotactic response between attraction and repulsion around a preferred concentration. The model also provided a unified understanding of the contrasting relationships between receptor expression levels and preferred ligand concentrations in EphA/ephrinA- and EphB/ephrinB-encoded topographic mappings. Thus, this study redefines the chemoaffinity theory in chemotactic terms.