Retrograde transport of neurotrophins: Fact and function



Retrograde signals generated by nerve growth factor (NGF) and other neurotrophins promote the survival of appropriately connected neurons during development, and failure to obtain sufficient retrograde signals may contribute to neuronal death occurring in many neurodegenerative diseases. The discovery over 25 years ago that NGF supplied to the axon terminals is retrogradely transported to the cell bodies suggested that NGF must reach the cell body to promote neuronal survival. Research during the intervening decades has produced a refinement of this hypothesis. The current hypothesis is that NGF bound to TrkA at the axon terminal is internalized into signaling endosomes, with NGF in their lumens bound to phosphorylated TrkA in their membranes, which are retrogradely transported to the cell bodies, where TrkA activates downstream signaling molecules that promote neuronal survival and regulate many aspects of neuronal gene expression. This model has been extrapolated to retrograde signaling by all neurotrophins. We consider the evidence for this model, focusing on results of experiments with neurons in compartmented cultures. Results to date indicate that while the transport of signaling endosomes containing NGF bound to TrkA may carry retrograde signals, retrograde survival signals can be carried by another mechanism that is activated by NGF at the axon terminal surface and travels to the cell body unaccompanied by the NGF that initiated it. It is hypothesized that multiple mechanisms of retrograde signaling exist and function under different circumstances. The newly discovered potential for redundancy in retrograde signaling mechanisms can complicate the interpretation of experimental results. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol 58: 217–229, 2004