The cornea, the most densely innervated tissue on the surface of the body, becomes innervated in a series of highly coordinated developmental events. During cornea development, chick trigeminal nerve growth cones reach the cornea margin at embryonic day (E)5, where they are initially repelled for days from E5 to E8, instead encircling the corneal periphery in a nerve ring prior to entering on E9. The molecular events coordinating growth cone guidance during cornea development are poorly understood. Here we evaluated a potential role for the Robo-Slit nerve guidance family. We found that Slits 1, 2 and 3 expression in the cornea and lens persisted during all stages of cornea innervation examined. Robo1 expression was developmentally regulated in trigeminal cell bodies, expressed robustly during nerve ring formation (E5-8), then later declining concurrent with projection of growth cones into the cornea. In this study we provide in vivo and in vitro evidence that Robo-Slit signaling guides trigeminal nerves during cornea innervation. Transient, localized inhibition of Robo-Slit signaling, by means of beads loaded with inhibitory Robo-Fc protein implanted into the developing eyefield in vivo, led to disorganized nerve ring formation and premature cornea innervation. Additionally, when trigeminal explants (source of neurons) were oriented adjacent to lens vesicles or corneas (source of repellant molecules) in organotypic tissue culture both lens and cornea tissues strongly repelled E7 trigeminal neurites, except in the presence of inhibitory Robo-Fc protein. In contrast, E10 trigeminal neurites were not as strongly repelled by cornea, and presence of Robo-Slit inhibitory protein had no effect. In full, these findings suggest that nerve repulsion from the lens and cornea during nerve ring formation is mediated by Robo-Slit signaling. Later, a shift in nerve guidance behavior occurs, in part due to molecular changes in trigeminal neurons, including Robo1 downregulation, thus allowing nerves to find the Slit-expressing cornea permissive for growth cones. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.
Schwend, T., Lwigale, P. Y., & Conrad, G. W. (2012). Nerve repulsion by the lens and cornea during cornea innervation is dependent on Robo-Slit signaling and diminishes with neuron age. Developmental Biology, 363(1), 115–127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.12.039