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Keywords:

  • apoptosis;
  • DCC;
  • dependence receptor;
  • nervous system development;
  • UNC5H

The membrane receptors DCC and UNC5H have been shown to be crucial for axon guidance and neuronal migration by acting as receptors for netrin-1. DCC has also been proposed as a dependence receptor inducing apoptosis in cells that are beyond netrin-1 availability. Here we show that the netrin-1 receptors UNC5H (UNC5H1, UNC5H2, UNC5H3) also act as dependence receptors. UNC5H receptors induce apoptosis, but this effect is blocked in the presence of netrin-1. Moreover, we demonstrate that UNC5H receptors are cleaved in vitro by caspase in their intracellular domains. This cleavage may lead to the exposure of a fragment encompassing a death domain required for cell death induction in vivo. Finally, we present evidence that during development of the nervous system, the presence of netrin-1 is crucial to maintain survival of UNC5H- and DCC-expressing neurons, especially in the ventricular zone of the brainstem. Altogether, these results argue for a role of netrin-1 during the development of the nervous system, not only as a guidance cue but as a survival factor via its receptors DCC and UNC5H.