In the mammalian visual system, retinal axons undergo temporal and spatial rearrangements as they project bilaterally to targets on the brain. Retinal axons cross the neuraxis to form the optic chiasm on the hypothalamus in a position defined by overlapping domains of regulatory gene expression. However, the downstream molecules that direct these processes remain largely unknown. Here we use a novel in vitro paradigm to study possible roles of the Eph family of receptor tyrosine kinases in chiasm formation. In vivo, Eph receptors and their ligands distribute in complex patterns in the retina and hypothalamus. In vitro, retinal axons are inhibited by reaggregates of isolated hypothalamic, but not dorsal diencephalic or cerebellar cells. Furthermore, temporal retinal neurites are more inhibited than nasal neurites by hypothalamic cells. Addition of soluble EphA5-Fc to block Eph 'A' subclass interactions decreases both the inhibition and the differential response of retinal neurites by hypothalamic reaggregates. These data show that isolated hypothalamic cells elicit specific, position-dependent inhibitory responses from retinal neurites in culture. Moreover, these responses are mediated, in part, by Eph interactions. Together with the in vivo distributions, these data suggest possible roles for Eph family members in directing retinal axon growth and/or reorganization during optic chiasm formation. (C) 2000 Academic Press.
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