Eph receptor tyrosine kinases and their ephrin ligands participate in the control of neuronal growth and migration in a variety of contexts, but the mechanisms by which they guide neuronal motility are still incompletely understood. By using the enteric nervous system (ENS) of the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta as a model system, we have explored whether Manduca ephrin (MsEphrin; a GPI-linked ligand) and its Eph receptor (MsEph) might regulate the migration and outgrowth of enteric neurons. During formation of the Manduca ENS, an identified set of ∼300 neurons (EP cells) populates the enteric plexus of the midgut by migrating along a specific set of muscle bands forming on the gut, but the neurons strictly avoid adjacent interband regions. By determining the mRNA and protein expression patterns for MsEphrin and the MsEph receptor and by examining their endogenous binding patterns within the ENS, we have demonstrated that the ligand and its receptor are distributed in a complementary manner: MsEphrin is expressed exclusively by the migratory EP cells, whereas the MsEph receptor is expressed by midline interband cells that are normally inhibitory to migration. Notably, MsEphrin could be detected on the filopodial processes of the EP cells that extended up to but not across the midline cells expressing the MsEph receptor. These results suggest a model whereby MsEphrin-dependent signaling regulates the response of migrating neurons to a midline inhibitory boundary, defined by the expression of MsEph receptors in the developing ENS.
- Enteric plexus
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