Netrin/DCC-mediated attraction of vagal sensory axons to the fetal mouse gut
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Vagal sensory axons and migrating neural crest-derived precursor cells follow similar pathways to reach the gut. The crest-derived cells express the netrin receptor deleted in colorectal cancer (DCC) and migrate toward netrins expressed by the intestinal mucosa and pancreas; this attraction is required for the formation of submucosal and pancreatic ganglia. We tested the hypothesis that enteric netrins also attract vagal sensory fibers. These axons were located as a function of age in fetal mice by applying the lipophilic tracer 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI) bilaterally to nodose ganglia. DiI-labeled axons were found in the esophagus and proximal stomach by E12 and, more distally, in the small bowel at E14-E16. Transcripts encoding DCC were expressed in the nodose ganglia of mice from E12 to adulthood but were developmentally regulated. Paraesophageal anterior and posterior vagal trunks were DCC immunoreactive from E12 to E16. Transcripts encoding netrin-1 were expressed in the developing foregut and midgut; netrin-1 immunoreactivity was detected in the outer gut mesenchyme and mucosal epithelium. Neurites from explanted E14 nodose ganglia grew selectively toward cocultured E14 distal foregut explants (P < 0.01). Antibodies to DCC specifically abolished this preferential outgrowth (P < 0.05). Nodose axons also grew selectively toward cocultured netrin-secreting 293-EBNA cells (P < 0.005); antibodies to DCC again blocked this preferential outgrowth (P < 0.05). These data suggest that netrins, which are expressed in the bowel, attract DCC-expressing vagal sensory axons.