Neurons in the adult rat dorsal root ganglion (DRG) can be classified into at least three separate subpopulations based on morphologic and phenotypic differences. In this study we have focused on the growth response of these specific subpopulations in vitro with respect to laminin (LN) and growth factor receptor activation. Using a cell selection approach we show that LN-induced neurite growth occurs in the absence of added trophic factors only in heavy-chain neurofilament-positive and calcitonin gene-related peptide-positive DRG neurons [nerve growth factor (NGF)-responsive population]. In contrast, LN alone is not sufficient to stimulate significant neurite growth from lectin Griffonia simplicifolia IB4-positive neurons (IB4+ve), although it is still required to elicit a growth response from these cells in the presence of glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF, e.g. neurite growth occurred only when cells were plated on LN in the presence of GDNF). By using chemical inhibitors we demonstrate that only the phosphatidylinositol 3 kinase (PI 3-K)/Akt pathway is required for neurite growth from the NGF-responsive cell population. However, both the PI 3-K/Akt and MEK/mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathways are required for neurite growth from the IB4+ve cell population. Thus, we have identified specific signaling events and environmental requirements associated with neurite growth for different subpopulations of adult DRG neurons, pointing to potential therapeutic targets while identifying an inability for any one treatment alone to repair peripheral nerve damage.
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