To identify potential functions for neurotrophins during sensory neuron genesis and differentiation, we determined the temporal and spatial protein expression patterns of neurotrophin receptors throughout the process of sensory neurogenesis in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG). We show that neurotrophin receptors are expressed early, being first detected on subsets of migrating neural crest cells, and that trkC is among the earliest markers of neural lineage specification. In the immature DRG, we find that both trkC and p75(NTR) are expressed on subsets of dividing progenitor cells in vivo. Furthermore, our data directly reveal distinct patterns of trk receptor expression by individual sensory neurons from the time of their inception with all early arising cells initially being trkC+, some subsets of whom also coexpress either trkA or trkB or both. As sensory neurons innervate their targets and establish their mature identities, the spectrum of trk receptors expressed by individual neurons is altered. The stereotyped trk receptor expression profiles identified here may potentially correspond to distinct lineages of sensory neurons. These data, in conjunction with other studies, argue for multiple functions for neurotrophins during the process of sensory neuron differentiation, including effects on both neural crest and DRG mitotically active progenitor cells, in addition to possibly influencing the establishment of sensory neuron identity. (C) 2000 Academic Press.
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