Netrin-A and Netrin-B: Biological Overview | Evolutionary Homologs | Regulation | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References

Gene name - Netrin-A and Netrin-B

Synonyms -

Cytological map position - 12F1,2

Function - axon guidance

Keywords - axon guidance, ventral midline, muscle, visceral and somatic mesoderm

Symbol - NetA and NetB

FlyBase ID:FBgn0015773 and FBgn0015774

Genetic map position -

Classification - Laminin homolog, Epidermal growth factor domain

Cellular location - secreted

NCBI link: NetA Entrez Gene
NCBI link: NetB Entrez Gene
NetA orthologs: Biolitmine
NetB orthologs: Biolitmine
Recent literature
Cate, S., Gajendra, S., Alsbury, S., Raabe, T., Tear, G. and Mitchell, K.J. (2016). Mushroom body defect is required in parallel to Netrin for midline axon guidance in Drosophila. Development [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 26893348
The outgrowth of many neurons within the central nervous system is initially directed towards or away from the cells lying at the midline. Recent genetic evidence suggests that a simple model of differential sensitivity to the conserved Netrin attractants and Slit repellents is not sufficient to explain the guidance of all axons at the midline. In the Drosophila embryonic ventral nerve cord, many axons still cross the midline in the absence of the Netrin genes or their receptor frazzled. This study shows that mutation of mushroom body defect (mud) dramatically enhances the phenotype of Netrin or frazzled mutants, resulting in many more axons failing to cross the midline, though mutations in mud alone have little effect. This suggests that mud, which encodes a microtubule-binding coiled-coil protein homologous to NuMA and Lin-5, is an essential component of a Netrin-independent pathway that acts in parallel to promote midline crossing. This novel role in axon guidance is independent of Mud's previously described role in neural precursor development. These studies identify a parallel pathway controlling midline guidance in Drosophila and highlight a novel role for Mud potentially acting downstream of Frizzled to aid axon guidance.

Asadzadeh, J., Neligan, N., Kramer, S.G. and Labrador, J.P. (2016). Tinman regulates NetrinB in the cardioblasts of the Drosophila dorsal vessel. PLoS One 11: e0148526. PubMed ID: 26840059
Morphogenesis of the Drosophila dorsal vessel (DV) shares similarities with that of the vertebrate heart. Precursors line up at both sides of the embryo, migrate towards the midline and fuse to form a tubular structure. Guidance receptors and their ligands have been implicated in this process in vertebrates and invertebrates, as have been a series of evolutionarily conserved cardiogenic transcriptional regulators including Tinman, the Drosophila homolog of the transcription factor Nkx-2.5. NetrinB (NetB), a repulsive ligand for the Unc-5 receptor is required to preserve the dorsal vessel hollow. It localizes to the luminal space of the dorsal vessel but its source and its regulation is unknown. Using genetics together with in situ hybridization with single cell resolution, this study shows how tin is required for NetrinB expression in cardioblasts during DV tubulogenesis and is sufficient to promote NetB transcription ectopically. The study further identifies a dorsal vessel-specific NetB enhancer and shows that it is also regulated by tin in a similar fashion to NetB.
Raza, Q. and Jacobs, J. R. (2016). Guidance signalling regulates leading edge behaviour during collective cell migration of cardiac cells in Drosophila. Dev Biol [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 27618756
Collective cell migration is the coordinated movement of cells, which organize tissues during morphogenesis, repair and some cancers. The motile cell membrane of the advancing front in collective cell migration is termed the Leading Edge. The embryonic development of the vertebrate and Drosophila hearts are both characterized by the coordinated medial migration of a bilateral cluster of mesodermal cells. In Drosophila, the cardioblasts form cohesive bilateral rows that migrate collectively as a unit towards the dorsal midline to form the dorsal vessel. This study characterized the collective cell migration of cardioblasts as an in vivo quantitative model to study the behaviour of the Leading Edge. Whether guidance signalling through Slit and Netrin pathways plays a role in cell migration during heart development was investigated. Through time-lapse imaging and quantitative assessment of migratory behaviour of the cardioblasts in loss-of-function mutants, both Slit and Netrin mediated signals are autonomously and concomitantly required to maximize migration velocity, filopodial and lamellipodial activities. Additionally, another Slit and Netrin receptor, Dscam1, the role of which during heart development was previously unknown, is required for both normal migration of cardioblasts and luminal expansion. Leading edge behaviour analysis revealed a dosage dependent genetic interaction between Slit and Netrin receptors suggesting that downstream signalling through these receptors converge on a common output that increases leading edge activity of the cardioblasts. Finally, guidance signalling was found to maintain the balance between epithelial and mesenchymal characteristics of the migrating cardioblasts.
Akin, O. and Zipursky, S. L. (2016). Frazzled promotes growth cone attachment at the source of a Netrin gradient in the Drosophila visual system. Elife 5 [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 27743477
Axon guidance is proposed to act through a combination of long- and short-range attractive and repulsive cues. The ligand-receptor pair, Netrin (Net) and Frazzled (Fra) (DCC, Deleted in Colorectal Cancer, in vertebrates), is recognized as the prototypical effector of chemoattraction, with roles in both long- and short-range guidance. In the Drosophila visual system, R8 photoreceptor growth cones were shown to require Net-Fra to reach their target, the peak of a Net gradient. Using live imaging, it was shown, however, that R8 growth cones reach and recognize their target without Net, Fra, or Trim9, a conserved binding partner of Fra, but do not remain attached to it. Thus, despite the graded ligand distribution along the guidance path, Net-Fra is not used for chemoattraction. Based on findings in other systems, it is proposed that adhesion to substrate-bound Net underlies both long- and short-range Net-Fra-dependent guidance in vivo, thereby eroding the distinction between them.
Suzuki, T., Liu, C., Kato, S., Nishimura, K., Takechi, H., Yasugi, T., Takayama, R., Hakeda-Suzuki, S., Suzuki, T. and Sato, M. (2018). Netrin signaling defines the regional border in the Drosophila visual center. iScience 8: 148-160. PubMed ID: 30316037
The brain consists of distinct domains defined by sharp borders. So far, the mechanisms of compartmentalization of developing tissues include cell adhesion, cell repulsion, and cortical tension. These mechanisms are tightly related to molecular machineries at the cell membrane. However, studies have demonstrated that Slit, a chemorepellent, is required to establish the borders in the fly brain. This study demonstrates that Netrin, a classic guidance molecule, is also involved in the compartmental subdivision in the fly brain. In Netrin mutants, many cells are intermingled with cells from the adjacent ganglia penetrating the ganglion borders, resulting in disorganized compartmental subdivisions. How do these guidance molecules regulate the compartmentalization? A mathematical model demonstrates that a simple combination of known guidance properties of Slit and Netrin is sufficient to explain their roles in boundary formation. These results suggest that Netrin indeed regulates boundary formation in combination with Slit in vivo.
Kang, H., Zhao, J., Jiang, X., Li, G., Huang, W., Cheng, H. and Duan, R. (2019). Drosophila Netrin-B controls mushroom body axon extension and regulates courtship-associated learning and memory of a Drosophila fragile X syndrome model. Mol Brain 12(1): 52. PubMed ID: 31138234
Mushroom body (MB) is a prominent structure essential for olfactory learning and memory in the Drosophila brain. The development of the MB involves the appropriate guidance of axon lobes and sister axon branches. Appropriate guidance that accurately shapes MB development requires the integration of various guidance cues provided by a series of cell types, which guide axons to reach their final positions within the MB neuropils. Netrins are axonal guidance molecules that are conserved regulators of embryonic nerve cord patterning. However, whether they contribute to MB morphogenesis has not yet been evaluated. This study found that Netrin-B (NetB) is highly expressed in the MB lobes, regulating lobe length through genetic interactions with the receptors Frazzled and Uncoordinated-5 from 24 h after pupal formation onwards. Overexpression of NetB causes severe beta lobe fusion in the MB, which is similar to the MB defects seen in the Drosophila model of fragile X syndrome (FXS). These results further show that fragile-X mental retardation protein FMRP inhibits the translational activity of human ortholog Netrin-1 (NTN1). Knock-down of NetB significantly rescues the MB defects and ameliorates deficits in the learning and memory in FXS model Drosophila. These results indicate a critical role for NetB in MB lobe extension and identify NetB as a novel target of FMRP which contributes to learning and memory.
Lapraz, F., Boutres, C., Fixary-Schuster, C., De Queiroz, B. R., Placais, P. Y., Cerezo, D., Besse, F., Preat, T. and Noselli, S. (2023). Asymmetric activity of NetrinB controls laterality of the Drosophila brain. Nat Commun 14(1): 1052. PubMed ID: 36828820
Left-Right (LR) asymmetry of the nervous system is widespread across animals and is thought to be important for cognition and behaviour. But in contrast to visceral organ asymmetry, the genetic basis and function of brain laterality remain only poorly characterized. In this study, RNAi screening was performed to identify genes controlling brain asymmetry in Drosophila. The conserved NetrinB (NetB) pathway was found to be required for a small group of bilateral neurons to project asymmetrically into a pair of neuropils (Asymmetrical Bodies, AB) in the central brain in both sexes. While neurons project unilaterally into the right AB in wild-type flies, netB mutants show a bilateral projection phenotype and hence lose asymmetry. Developmental time course analysis reveals an initially bilateral connectivity, eventually resolving into a right asymmetrical circuit during metamorphosis, with the NetB pathway being required just prior symmetry breaking. This study shows using unilateral clonal analysis that netB activity is required specifically on the right side for neurons to innervate the right AB. It was shown that loss of NetB pathway activity leads to specific alteration of long-term memory, providing a functional link between asymmetrical circuitry determined by NetB and animal cognitive functions.
Zhang, Y., Lowe, S., Ding, A. Z. and Li, X. (2023).. Notch-dependent binary fate choice regulates the Netrin pathway to control axon guidance of Drosophila visual projection neurons. Cell Rep 42(3): 112143. PubMed ID: 36821442
Notch-dependent binary fate choice between sister neurons is one of the mechanisms to generate neural diversity. How these upstream neural fate specification programs regulate downstream effector genes to control axon targeting and neuropil assembly remains less well understood. This tudy reports that Notch-dependent binary fate choice in Drosophila medulla neurons is required to regulate the Netrin axon guidance pathway, which controls targeting of transmedullary (Tm) neurons to lobula. In medulla neurons of Notch-on hemilineage composed of mostly lobula-targeting neurons, Notch signaling is required to activate the expression of Netrin-B and repress the expression of its repulsive receptor Unc-5. Turning off Unc-5 is necessary for Tm neurons to target lobula. Furthermore, Netrin-B provided by Notch-on medulla neurons is required for correct targeting of Tm axons from later-generated medulla columns. Thus, the coordinate regulation of Netrin pathway components by Notch signaling ensures correct targeting of Tm axons and contributes to the neuropil assembly.

When viewed across phyla from insects to vertebrates, the CNS midline exhibits both attractive and repulsive properties for neuronal growth cones. In vertebrates, the ventral midline contains a specialized group of cells (the floor plate), while in Drosophila midline glia act to attract commissural growth cones while simultaneously presenting a repulsive boundary to axons that do not cross.

The netrins are a family of secreted proteins that provide axon guidance. The first netrin characterized, UNC-6 of the nematode C. elegans, was identified as the product of a gene that when mutated, leads to defects in cell migration and axon guidance. unc-6 is expressed in twelve types of neurons and glia and provides a hierarchy of guidance cues throughout the ectoderm that are used in forming the basic axon scaffold of the nervous system. Although the unc-6 expression pattern is complex, early unc-6 expression is spatially restricted to the ventralmost cells within each region of the nervous system. Such ventral restriction of netrin expression likely extends to all phyla (Wadsworth, 1996 and references).

In the rat Netrin-1 is expressed in the ventral midline of the neural tube. Floor plate cells attract ventrally directed spinal commissural axons cells but have a long-range repulsive effect on dorsally directed trochlear motor axons. Both repulsion and attraction are mediated by Netrin-1 (Colamarino, 1995).

In Drosophila Netrin genes are expressed at the ventral midline of the central nervous system. Both Netrin genes are expressed by midline glial cells, while only one (NetA) is expressed in the midline VUM neuronal cluster. The first axons to pioneer the anterior and posterior commissures first project directly toward these midline glia and VUM growth cones, and subsequently make intimate contact with them. Netrins do not function as permissive agents to promote axon outgrowth, but rather Netrin localization is required for proper guidance; that is, Netrins function as instructive guidance cues. There is some evidence from phenotypes of ectopic Netrin expression to suggest that Netrins repel in Drosophila.

In addition to the role in the midline, Netrins also influence the peripheral projections of motor axons to their target muscles. Netrins are expressed by discrete subsets of muscles. In Netrin double mutants, axons wander over more territory than usual, and can sometimes inappropriately cross the segmental border into neighboring segments. Neurons often appear to branch inappropriately over muscle targets, to stall, to project past targets or to project into adjacent segments (Mitchell, 1996).

What is known regarding receptors for the Netrins? In C. elegans there are two candidate genes. The unc-5 (see Drosophila unc-5) gene encodes a membrane protein of the immunoglobulin family. Misexpression experiments have shown than UNC-5 protein is necessary and sufficient for dorsally oriented cell movements that utilize the UNC-6 protein gradient. UNC-40 is another immunoglobulin superfamily member that is implicated as a receptor component for UNC-5 (Harris, 1996 and references). As to the Drosophila receptor, intersegmental neuron phenotypes are remarkably similar to those observed in embryos mutant for the gene frazzled , the Drosophila homolog of mammalian DCC and a putative Netrin receptor (Kolodziej, 1996).

The molecular mechanisms controlling the ability of motor axons to recognize their appropriate muscle targets were dissected using Drosophila genetics to add or subtract Netrin A, Netrin B, Semaphorin II, and Fasciclin II, either alone or in combination. Discrete target selection by neurons might be specified in a point-to-point fashion such that each motor axon and its appropriate target have unique and complementary molecular labels. Alternatively, specificity might emerge from a dynamic and comparative process in which growth cones respond to qualitative and quantitative molecular differences expressed by neighboring targets and make their decisions based on the relative balance of attractive and repulsive forces. Fas II and Sema II are expressed by all muscles where they promote (Fas II) or inhibit (Sema II) promiscuous synaptogenesis. The level of Sema II expression, while not enough to stop growth cones from exploring their environment, nevertheless provides a threshold that specific attractive signals must overcome in order to permit synapse formation. Decreasing Sema II leads to an increase in innervation. In the absence of Sema II, targeting errors occur, usually in the form of additional ectopic connections to neighboring muscles, although in some cases the absence of the normal connection or inappropriate choice point decisions are observed as well. Increasing Sema II leads to a decrease in innervation. It is concluded that growth cones in this system apparently do not rely solely on single molecular labels on individual targets. Rather, these growth cones assess the relative balance of attractive and repulsive forces and select their targets based on the combinatorial and simultaneous input of multiple cues. Apparently a relative balance model is more valid in this system than a lock-and-key model (Winberg, 1998).

The modest and dynamic level of Fas II helps adjust the threshold for innervation. Prior to synapse formation, Fas II is expressed at a low level across the entire surface of the muscle, making it permissive for growth cone exploration and synapse formation. As the first synapse forms on a muscle, the Fas II level dramatically plummets over the muscle surface while Fas II clusters under the developing synapse. The first successful synapse leads to a rapid reduction in this general attractant, thereby shifting the relative balance in favor of Sema II-mediated repulsion and thus raising the hurdle over which attractive signals must pass in order to promote further synapse formation. In this way, the innervated muscle becomes more refractory to further innervation. Fas II, as a modulator of the balance of attraction and repulsion, becomes a temporal measure of the muscle's synaptic history (Winberg, 1998).

While Sema II generally prevents exuberant synapse formation, it can also play an important role in patterning connections. For example, the two axons that pioneer the transverse nerve (TN) normally meet and fasciculate near muscle 7. In the absence of Sema II, these axons often innervate muscles 7 and 6, and sometimes fail to fasciculate with one another. In this case, Sema II provides a repulsive force (from muscles 7 and 6) at a specific choice point, and in its absence, the TN growth cones make a different decision. Similarly, as the lateral branch of the segmental nerve branch a (SNa) extends posteriorly, one axon branch innervates muscle 5 while another continues posteriorly to innervate muscle 8. In the absence of Sema II, both sometimes stop and innervate muscle 5. In this case, Sema II provides a key repulsive force (from muscle 5) at a specific choice point, and in its absence, the growth cone that usually innervates muscle 8 instead makes a different decision. Both examples show how Sema II can do more than simply sharpen the pattern of innervation; Sema II can also influence specific targeting decisions in a dosage-dependent fashion. The Sema II experiments show that the pattern of expression (i.e., the differential levels expressed by neighboring muscles) can be more important than the absolute level. Simply increasing Sema II on all muscles has little influence on the SNa. But increasing Sema II expression on muscle 5 and not its neighboring muscles does influence the SNa axons, presumably because it presents these axons with a sharp repulsive boundary. This differential expression prevents the lateral branch of the SNa from extending towards muscles 5 and 8 (Winberg, 1998).

The netrins were initially discovered as long-range chemoattractants that are secreted by midline cells and that attract commissural growth cones toward the midline. Netrins might have another function, and strong evidence is presented supporting this notion. In addition to their CNS midline expression and function in axon guidance, NetA and NetB are also expressed by distinct subsets of muscles where they function as short-range target recognition molecules. Genetic analysis suggests that both types of Netrin-mediated attractive responses (i.e., pathfinding and targeting) require Frazzled, the DCC/UNC-40-like Netrin receptor. In contrast, Fra is not required for NetB-mediated repulsion of the segmental nerve. Even though they are expressed by distinct subsets of muscles and function as target recognition molecules, the two netrins, NetA and NetB, do not act alone in specifying any one of these muscle targets. NetB is expressed by muscles 7 and 6, but NetB is not the sole attractant used by RP3 to innervate these muscles. In the absence of NetB, in 35% of segments RP3 makes the correct pathfinding decisions in the periphery but fails to innervate muscles 7 and 6 properly. However, in the other 65% of segments it does innervate muscles 7 and 6. Clearly, other unknown cues must play a major role in this targeting decision. One potential candidate for an additional targeting cue is the Ig CAM Fasciclin III. However, removal of FasIII does not alter the penetrance of the RP3 phenotype of Netrin or frazzled mutants. NetB functions within the context of the relative balance of general attractants and repellents such as Fas II and Sema II. For example, since the TN axons are attracted by NetB, and muscles 7 and 6 express NetB, why do the TN axons not synapse on muscles 7 and 6? Evidently, they are sufficiently repelled by Sema II to prevent inappropriate synapse formation. Either increasing the level of NetA or NetB or decreasing the level of Sema II leads to ectopic TN synapses. The choice of synaptic partner by TN axons is controlled by the balance of NetB in relation to Sema II and Fas II (Winberg, 1998).

Distinct classes of motor axons respond differentially to NetA and NetB While all motor axons in this system appear to be attracted by Fas II and repelled by Sema II, the different types of motor axons respond differently to NetA and NetB. NetB is expressed by a subset of muscles (7 and 6) where it strongly attracts appropriate (RP3) axons, more weakly attracts certain inappropriate (TN) axons, and repels other inappropriate (SN) axons. RP3 and TN axons can also be strongly attracted by NetA, while SN axons are apparently indifferent to NetA. The TN axons display a stronger responsiveness to NetA than to NetB, as judged by the frequency of ectopic innervation of ventral muscles overexpressing either Netrin. This difference may make biological sense, as TN axons normally extend toward a dorsal stripe of epithelial cells expressing NetA but grow past NetB-expressing ventral muscles without innervating them (Winberg, 1998).

Although all of the molecular signals used for this targeting system are not yet known, four key components have been identified: the pan-muscle expression of Fas II and Sema II and the muscle-specific expression of NetA and NetB. Analysis of these four genes shows that the signals they encode are potent, function as short-range signals in a dosage-dependent fashion, and work in combinations that either amplify or antagonize one another. Fas II and Sema II help control the fidelity and precision of the targeting system, while NetA and NetB provide muscle-specific targeting cues. These results suggest that target selection in this system is not based on absolute attractants or repellents that either ensure or prevent synapse formation, but rather it is based on the balance of attractive and repulsive forces on any given target cell in relationship to its neighboring cells. Targeting molecules such as Netrins, Semaphorins, and IgCAMs sometimes function as antagonists and sometimes as collaborators. This model of target selection is very similar to the current view of axon guidance in terms of a relative balance of attractive and repulsive forces (Winberg, 1998).

Netrin and frazzled regulate presynaptic gap junctions at a Drosophila giant synapse

Netrin and its receptor, Frazzled, dictate the strength of synaptic connections in the giant fiber system (GFS) of Drosophila melanogaster by regulating gap junction localization in the presynaptic terminal. In Netrin mutant animals, the synaptic coupling between a giant interneuron and the 'jump' motor neuron was weakened and dye coupling between these two neurons was severely compromised or absent. In cases in which Netrin mutants displayed apparently normal synaptic anatomy, half of the specimens exhibited physiologically defective synapses and dye coupling between the giant fiber (GF) and the motor neuron was reduced or eliminated, suggesting that gap junctions were disrupted in the Netrin mutants. When the gap junctions were examined with antibodies to Shaking-B (ShakB) Innexin, they were significantly decreased or absent in the presynaptic terminal of the mutant GF. Frazzled loss of function mutants exhibited similar defects in synaptic transmission, dye coupling, and gap junction localization. These data are the first to show that Netrin and Frazzled regulate the placement of gap junctions presynaptically at a synapse (Orr, 2014).

The results show for the first time that Netrin-Frazzled signaling is specifically responsible for localizing gap junctions presynaptically at the GF-TTMn synapse. In the absence of Netrin, the gap junctions are not assembled in the presynaptic terminal and dye coupling is weak or absent in otherwise anatomically normal synapses. Similarly, Frazzled LOF mutants disrupted gap junctions and synaptic transmission. Finally, presynaptic expression of the dominant-negative Frazzled construct that is missing the intracellular domain also disrupts gap junction assembly, dye coupling, and synaptic transmission. In Netrin LOF mutants, axonal pathfinding is normal because the GF always projects into the target region and occasionally branches ectopically in the target region. However, dendritic path finding is dependent on Netrin-Frazzled signaling. In Netrin LOF mutants, the TTMn dendrite that normally projects toward the midline is often missing, as observed in other motor neurons. Finally, Netrin-Frazzled signaling is implicated in target selection, because GFs that reach the target area often do not build synapses, as seen in other model systems (Orr, 2014).

It was hypothesized that the physiological defect seen in Netrin and frazzled mutants arises from a reduction in trans-synaptic coupling between presynaptic and postsynaptic Innexins. Similar phenotypes, long latency, and lack of dye coupling have been observed in the shakB2 mutant, which lacks gap junctions at the GF-TTMn synapse. The data suggest that when presynaptic and postsynaptic cells make contact, Netrin-Frazzled signaling is instructive for presynaptic localization of Innexins in the GF terminal to form trans-synaptic gap junctions (Orr, 2014).

Two roles were identified for Netrin-Frazzled signaling in assembly of the giant fiber system. Netrin was shown to act as a cue to direct the GF to select a target. Netrin-Frazzled signaling was also a local guidance cue for the GF and the medial dendrite of TTMn. The TTMn medial dendrite grows toward the midline glia, which were shown to be a source of Netrin. Second, it was hypothesized that Netrin bound on the postsynaptic Frazzled receptors serves as a synaptogenic cue for presynaptic Frazzled located on the GF. It is proposed that the bound Frazzled receptors directed presynaptic synaptogenesis and Innexin localization in the presynaptic terminal (Orr, 2014).

The frazzled dominant-negative construct supports the hypothesis that Netrin-Frazzled signaling is instructive in GF-TTMn synaptogenesis and function. Expression of fraC presynaptically disrupts the circuit by interrupting wild-type Netrin-Frazzled signaling. This was demonstrated through disruption of GF-TTMn synaptogenesis and the absence of gap junctions in the presynaptic terminal. However, the expression of UAS-fraC postsynaptically did not disrupt function, but did disrupt the morphology of the postsynaptic neuron. Postsynaptic expression of UAS-fraC disrupted dendritic maturation, resulting in medial dendrite pruning defects and lateral dendrite extension defects. The fraC experiments are interpreted as providing some evidence for Frazzled's cell autonomous role in building this giant synapse. More direct evidence would require rescue experiments. Unfortunately, the relevant genes are located very close to one another, making it difficult to obtain the appropriate recombination event. Future experiments will use recently acquired GAL4 drivers on the third chromosome to clarify this issue. The Frazzled RNAi experiments were uninformative, possibly because RNAi is not a strong enough disruption of frazzled to cause effects in the GFS. In brief, the cell autonomous function of Frazzled warrants further investigation (Orr, 2014).

When UAS-fraC was expressed in the embryo in the Netrin LOF background, it revealed that the disruption of commissures was Netrin dependent. An interaction experiment (NetAΔBΔ/+; A307/+; UAS-fraC/+) revealed a different mechanism by which the dominant-negative fraC obstructed synaptogenesis. In a heterozygous Netrin LOF background, the mutant version of Frazzled was expressed, further knocking down Netrin-Frazzled signaling to disrupt synaptogenesis. The results suggested that fraC was acting as a Netrin sink by binding to secreted Netrin, limiting the amount of Netrin that could bind to wild-type Frazzled receptors (Orr, 2014).

The chemical synaptic component of the GF-TTMn synapse was observed in the Net LOF mutants using antibodies against the presynaptic density protein Bruchpilot (T-bars) with anti-NC82 staining. However, the Bruchpilot labeling was not informative. No further effort was made because the cholinergic component has no effect on synaptic circuit function in the adult (Orr, 2014).

In contrast to the GF-TTMn synapse, the GF-PSI synapse is unaffected by the absence of Netrin, Frazzled, or the expression of the dominant-negative Frazzled dominant-negative. This shows that the GF-TTMn synapse specifically is dependent on Netrin-Frazzled signaling for function. This mechanism for gap junction insertion is so specific that neighboring electrical synapses that share the same presynaptic terminal (GF) use different mechanisms for gap junction localization (Orr, 2014).

Netrin is secreted from two known sources, the midline glia and the postsynaptic target TTMn. A model is presented for Netrin localization and function in which Netrin is captured on the surface of one neuron (TTMn) by Frazzled and is then presented to Frazzled receptors on another neuron (GF) to transmit signaling. During development, the TTMn extends its medial dendrite toward a source of Netrin, the midline glia. After the TTMn dendrite has grown into the synaptic area by 9% of PD, both the midline glia and TTMn are labeled with Netrin. It is hypothesized that this is important in the induction of synaptic maturation of this synapse (Orr, 2014).

Rescuing Netrin LOF mutants by expressing a secreted form of Netrin specifically in either TTMn or midline glia supports a model that Netrin is presented to the GF to promote synapse formation. The secreted Netrin rescue experiments were effective because Netrin could localize where it would normally as long as it was secreted by a nearby endogenous source. This could explain why it was possible to rescue the Netrin LOF mutants in a non-cell-autonomous fashion by expressing secreted Netrin in either midline glia or the TTMn independently. Postsynaptic expression of the Frazzled dominant-negative also supports the presentation model. When two copies of Frazzled lacking its intracellular domain were expressed on the TTMn, Netrin could bind to the mutant Frazzled, be presented to the GF, and support normal synaptic function regardless of disrupted intracellular signaling in the TTMn by the deletion of the intracellular domain (Orr, 2014).

In contrast, expressing membrane-tethered UAS-NetBCD8-TM on either the midline glia or TTMn failed to rescue function of the circuit because localization and secretion of Netrin was disrupted. When attempts were made to rescue the Netrin LOF mutants by expressing membrane-tethered NetrinB postsynaptically, the defects were enhanced and the medial dendrite did not extend to the midline in 90% of specimens. However, in the tethered NetB mutant, tethered NetrinB was expressed in both of its endogenous sources, midline glia and TTMn, and the synapse functioned normally. While being expressed under its endogenous promoter, tethered Netrin supported normal synaptogenesis. It is possible that, through the endogenous expression pattern, cells not identified in this study could contribute to the normal phenotype seen in the mutants in a nonlocal manner. However, it is hypothesized that the tethered NetrinB mutant does not behave in a predictable way. It is suggested that this protein is not as tightly membrane bound as the UAS-NetBCD8-TM protein product due to the added extracellular myc domains in the tethered mutant. The tethered mutant's additional myc domains may account for differences in phenotypes due to increased protein flexibility or possible cleavage and secretion from the cell of origin. Considering this, non-cell-autonomous expression of a secreted Netrin rescued Netrin LOF defects, whereas expression of the tethered version using the same GAL4 drivers could not rescue the defects. This is evidence for the importance of Netrin secretion in GFS synaptogenesis (Orr, 2014).

Tace/ADAM17 is a bi-directional regulator of axon guidance that coordinates distinct Frazzled and Dcc receptor signaling outputs

Frazzled (Fra) and deleted in colorectal cancer (Dcc) are homologous receptors that promote axon attraction in response to netrin. In Drosophila, Fra also acts independently of netrin by releasing an intracellular domain (ICD) that activates gene transcription. How neurons coordinate these pathways to make accurate guidance decisions is unclear. This study shows that the ADAM metalloprotease Tace cleaves Fra, and this instructs the switch between the two pathways. Genetic manipulations that either increase or decrease Tace levels disrupt midline crossing of commissural axons. These conflicting phenotypes reflect Tace's function as a bi-directional regulator of axon guidance, a function conserved in its vertebrate homolog ADAM17: while Tace induces the formation of the Fra ICD to activate transcription, excessive Tace cleavage of Fra and Dcc suppresses the response to netrin. It is proposed that Tace and ADAM17 are key regulators of midline axon guidance by establishing the balance between netrin-dependent and netrin-independent signaling (Zang, 2022).

This study reports a conserved role for Tace and ADAM17 in coordinating different receptor signaling outputs. In the context of commissural axon guidance, strong biochemical and genetic evidence is provided demonstrating that Tace functions in both the canonical netrin-dependent Fra pathway and the non-canonical netrin-independent Fra pathway. Specifically, this study has shown that in the non-canonical pathway, Tace cleaves Fra to induce the formation of a transcriptionally active ICD fragment that regulates the expression of Fra's target gene comm. In the canonical pathway, overexpression of Tace results in excessive cleavage of Fra that inhibits the receptor's ability to respond to netrin. Because both Fra pathways are essential for proper midline attraction, such bi-directional regulation by Tace could assist the neurons in orchestrating appropriate signaling outputs. Thus, a model is proposed in which the levels and/or activity of Tace must be correctly regulated to ensure that Fra signals effectively. When the levels or activities of Tace are low, the commissural neuron favors the netrin-dependent canonical pathway to promote midline crossing. In contrast, when Tace is activated, the commissural neuron decreases its responsiveness to netrin and switches to the non-canonical Fra pathway to regulate gene transcription. Together, these two pathways are maintained in a tightly controlled balance and cooperate to facilitate commissural axon midline crossing. Importantly, this study also demonstrated a clear functional similarity between Tace and ADAM17, arguing that ADAM17-dependent cleavage of Dcc likely allows for a similar segregation of receptor signaling outputs in vertebrate systems (Zang, 2022).

Previous studies have revealed that ADAM-dependent proteolysis can impinge on downstream signaling pathways of guidance receptors in many ways. First, ADAM cleavage can terminate receptor signaling by reducing receptor surface levels. Second, ADAM cleavage can facilitate association between the receptor and its downstream effector proteins.Third, ADAM cleavage can physically separate receptor-ligand complexes to switch adhesion to repulsion. Previous studies have demonstrated that both of Fra's vertebrate homologs, Dcc and neogenin, are also ADAM substrates, yet the physiological significance and the precise mechanisms of how proteolysis affects downstream signaling of these receptors remain unclear. This study has shown that in Drosophila, Tace induces the formation of both Fra ECDs and ICDs and is required for the expression of Fra's transcriptional target gene comm. Unlike the mechanisms described above, the current data establish a distinct pathway in which an ADAM can activate an axon guidance receptor by initiating subsequent γ-secretase cleavage to induce transcriptional activity of the receptor. It remains to be seen whether the same non-canonical mechanism is conserved for ADAM17 and Fra's vertebrate homologs Dcc and neogenin. In Drosophila commissural neurons, γ-secretase cleaves Fra to generate an ICD fragment, allowing it to translocate to the nucleus to regulate the transcription of comm (Zang, 2022).

Previous studies have demonstrated that the neogenin ICD is present in the nucleus in both chick retinal ganglion cells and zebrafish embryos. In addition, in vitro evidence from cell lines suggests that both neogenin and Dcc ICDs can localize to the nucleus to modulate gene transcription, suggesting that similar non-canonical pathways exist for Dcc and neogenin as well. This study has shown that conditional removal of Adam17 disrupts midline crossing in vivo. If the only function of ADAM17 at the vertebrate midline is to downregulate netrin and Dcc signaling, it would be expected to see increased crossing when ADAM17 levels are reduced. Thus, in vertebrates, ADAM17 behaves similarly to Tace in Drosophila to positively regulate midline crossing. This observation supports a potential role for ADAM17 in activating the transcriptional activities of Dcc at the vertebrate midline (Zang, 2022).

While Dcc is arguably the most likely substrate, it should be noted that analysis in embryonic mouse spinal cords does not exclude the possibility that ADAM17 functions by regulating other substrates. One possibility is neogenin, which, in addition to netrin, also binds to its canonical ligand repulsive guidance molecule (RGM) with much higher affinity. Cleavage of neogenin by ADAM17 desensitizes axons to RGM, which abolishes its repulsive effects on neurite outgrowth. Importantly, neogenin contributes to commissure formation in the mouse spinal cord by binding and facilitating Dcc and netrin signaling through its ECDs (Zang, 2022).

Thus, it is unlikely that neogenin is the primary ADAM17 substrate, as shedding of its ECDs should have deleterious effects on midline guidance, which is contrary to what wsd observed in Adam17 cKO embryos. Another possible substrate is the repulsive receptor Robo1. While it has not been determined whether Robo1 is a substrate of ADAM17, it is possible that cleavage of Robo1 inhibits its repulsive function, which could explain the reduced commissure formation observed in Adam17 cKO embryos. One would predict that, as a result, overexpression of Tace or ADAM17 should inhibit Robo1-mediated repulsion, which is contrary to what was observed in Drosophila. This again argues against Robo1 as the primary substrate mediating the phenotypes observed in Adam17 cKO embryos (Zang, 2022).

The data suggest that Tace and ADAM17 are strictly regulated to achieve a precise balance of Fra and Dcc signaling outputs. What are the mechanisms involved in commissural neurons to modulate Tace and ADAM17 expression and/or activity? In principle, this regulation could occur either at the metalloprotease level or at the substrate level. First, the surface expression or the activity of Tace and ADAM17 could be regulated. This study has demonstrated that tace and Adam17 transcripts are highly expressed in the embryonic CNS of both invertebrates and vertebrates. In Drosophila, the expression of Tace mRNA and protein does not appear to be temporally controlled, suggesting that Tace activity is likely to be regulated post-translationally. Indeed, a number of molecules have been identified as regulators of ADAM17 activity, including tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-3 (TIMP-3) which suppresses ADAM17 catalytic activity, and the adapter proteins iRhom1 and iRhom2, which are involved in ADAM17 maturation and stability. Thus, it would be interesting to explore the potential roles of TIMP-3 and the iRhoms and their Drosophila orthologs during axon guidance (Zang, 2022).

Alternatively, regulation of Tace and ADAM17 function could occur at the substrate level. Ligand binding could induce conformational changes in the substrate to facilitate its association with the metalloprotease, or an interacting protein could bind to the substrate to block association with the metalloprotease. Previous work has shown that netrin does not activate the transcriptional activity of Fra,sugge sting that an alternative ligand may exist for the non-canonical pathway. In mouse cortical neurons, leucine-rich repeats and immunoglobulin-like domains 2 (Lrig2) bind to neogenin to inhibit premature ADAM17 cleavage (Zang, 2022).

It remains to be seen whether similar mechanisms regulate Fra and Dcc cleavage. Tace and ADAM17 coordinate the canonical and non-canonical pathways ADAMs can facilitate a switch in responses to guidance cues. For example, ADAM10 and ADAM17 cleave Neuropilin-1 to regulate proprioceptive axon responsiveness to Sema3A. In addition, ADAM10 cleaves ephrinA5 to convert EphA3-ephrinA5-mediated adhesion to repulsion. It is proposed that Tace and ADAM17 can instruct neurons to coordinate the canonical and non-canonical pathways. It is important to point out that, instead of producing opposite signaling outcomes, the canonical and non-canonical pathways both promote midline crossing of commissural axons, which suggests that the two pathways cooperate instead of competing. This distinguishes the current model from existing mechanisms, but at the same time inevitably poses the question: how does the neuron decide between the two pathways? It is speculated that both pathways could be engaged in the same cell but are separated spatially and/or temporally. The canonical pathway is activated at the tip of the axon, where Fra responds to netrin to locally regulate the cytoskeleton (Zang, 2022).

It is possible that the non-canonical Fra pathway is activated in the soma instead, where the cleaved Fra ICDs are within close proximity to the nucleus. This is supported by the observation that both endogenous Tace and overexpressed Tace are almost exclusively detected in the cell soma but not on the axons. In addition, the two pathways could be activated by distinct ligands, so that they are controlled at different developmental time points. Given the diverse roles of ADAM family metalloproteases in development and disease, continued investigation into their regulation and mechanism of action will undoubtedly offer important biological insights (Zang, 2022).

While this study demonstrated that Tace/ADAM17 is a key regulator of Fra/Dcc signaling and controls midline axon guidance, this study has its limitations. First, tace zygotic mutants in Drosophila show midline crossing defects with low penetrance, which is likely the result of a maternal effect. Yet it was not possible to definitively test this by generating maternal zygotic tace mutants, due to developmental arrest potentially linked to its function in the Notch pathway. Second, it remains to be seen if the same non-canonical signaling mechanism is conserved for Dcc in vertebrate systems. Future transcriptomic studies comparing gene expression levels in controls and Dcc cKO embryos or cell lines, or cell lines overexpressing Dcc ICD, could help resolve its role in transcriptional regulation. Third, it is unclear if Tace/ADAM17 is required cell autonomously in commissural neurons or cell non-autonomously in neighboring cells to cleave Fra/Dcc. Generating commissural neuron-specific cKO animals in the future could provide definitive answers. Fourth, the commissure formation deficits observed in Adam17 mutants are not causatively linked to a lack of Dcc cleavage. Finally, it remains to be determined what the biological stimulus that activates the non-canonical pathway is (Zang, 2022).

Glial-secreted Netrins regulate Robo1/Rac1-Cdc42 signaling threshold levels during Drosophila asymmetric neural stem/progenitor cell division

Asymmetric stem cell division (ASCD) is a key mechanism in development, cancer, and stem cell biology. Drosophila neural stem cells, called neuroblasts (NBs), divide asymmetrically through intrinsic mechanisms. This study shows that the extrinsic axon guidance cues Netrins, secreted by a glial niche surrounding larval brain neural stem cell lineages, regulate NB ASCD. Netrin-Frazzled/DCC signaling modulates, through Abelson kinase, Robo1 signaling threshold levels in Drosophila larval brain neural stem and progenitor cells of NBII lineages. Unbalanced Robo1 signaling levels induce ectopic NBs and progenitor cells due to failures in the ASCD process. Mechanistically, Robo1 signaling directly impinges on the intrinsic ASCD machinery, such as aPKC, Canoe/Afadin, and Numb, through the small GTPases Rac1 and Cdc42, which are required for the localization in mitotic NBs of Par-6, a Cdc42 physical partner and a core component of the Par (Par-6-aPKC-Par3/Bazooka) apical complex (de Torres-Jurado, 2022).

A precise regulation of ASCD is critical in development, tissue homeostasis, and tumorigenesis. Extrinsic signals from specialized microenvironments, the niches, importantly contribute to that regulation by promoting the stem cell fate in the daughter cell that receives those signals, whereas the other daughter cell enters a differentiation program. Intriguingly, the ASCD of some stem cells, including the Drosophila CNS stem cells called NBs, the subject of this study, seems to depend exclusively on intrinsic regulatory mechanisms. Then, are those stem cells completely independent of their surrounding environment? Also, how general is the requirement of niches and the signals secreted from them for maintaining the stem cell fate in an ASCD (de Torres-Jurado, 2022)?

This study shows that the ASCD of Drosophila NBs, a traditional paradigm for studying intrinsic ASCD regulatory mechanisms, do also depend on extrinsic cues secreted by a glial niche, which are in close contact with those neural stem cell lineages in the larval brain. However, these extrinsic signals are not required to maintain the stem cell fate. They ultimately impact on the regulation of intrinsic factors to induce differentiation in one daughter cell, repressing the self-renewal 'basal state' in this cell. Different studies have shown the possibility of growing in culture isolated larval NBs, which are able to form crescents and divide asymmetrically without any additional extrinsic signal. However, most of these experiments were performed using central brain type I NB lineage (NBI) NBs, which do not require Fra and Robo1 signaling for their correct development, or included type II NB lineage (NBII,) but only particular markers were analyzed (i.e., Baz and Pon). This is relevant as, for example, it was observed that the localization of some ASCD regulators were not affected without extrinsic signals (i.e., Insc, Mira, and Brat). In the experiments in culture, some of the latter regulators are frequently used. It is also key to properly quantify the cases of crescent formation at metaphase, as the phenotypes are never fully penetrant and can be even totally rescued at telophase. For example, in the system used in this study, aPKC showed about 50% localization failures at metaphase, implying that there are NBIIs that show aPKC crescents. Nevertheless, finding that glia-secreted cues are specifically required in NBII lineages was indeed very intriguing. NBII lineages are larger than NBI, as they undergo an additional proliferation phase through INPs and hence are more prone to induce tumor-like overgrowth when ASCD fails. Thus, additional levels of regulation might have evolved in these lineages to ensure the correct division of the NB and INPs to avoid overgrowths. This issue will be further examined in the future (de Torres-Jurado, 2022).

This work has unveiled a novel function for the axon guidance cues Netrins and their Fra/DCC-like receptor in regulating self-renewal versus differentiation in neural stem and progenitor cells of larval NBII lineages. The cortex glial niche that surrounds those lineages secretes Netrins, which modulate Robo1 signaling threshold levels through Fra and Abl kinase in stem and progenitor cells. Whereas Robo1 signaling is activated by its ligand Slit, also secreted by the glial niche, Abl kinase represses this signaling, and these balanced Robo1 signaling levels appear to be critical for the cell-fate commitment of the daughter cell prone to differentiate. The cortex glia dynamically undergoes remodeling through larval stages; only at late third instar larval stages (L3) the glia chamber enwrapping each NB lineage forms completely. This study already observed the presence of the secreted ligands Slit and NetA in the cortex glia at L2, suggesting that these cues are being secreted from the glia since the reactivation of dormant NBs at early L2 (de Torres-Jurado, 2022).

Slit-Robo signaling regulates progenitor cell proliferation in the mammalian CNS and promotes the terminal asymmetric division of a differentiation-committed cell in the Drosophila CNS. Likewise, in mammary stem cells, Robo1 favors their asymmetric mode of cell division. Slit-Robo signaling is also required in other stem or progenitor cells to regulate their lineage specification, identity, or their adhesion/anchoring to the niche. No role for Netrin-Fra/DCC signaling has been previously described in all those contexts (de Torres-Jurado, 2022).

Ultimately, a transcriptional control has been pointed out as the most common way of action by which Robo signaling regulate the above-mentioned cellular processes. This study shows a novel, transcription-independent mechanism by which Robo1 signaling regulates ASCD. Robo1 signaling would be required to activate the small GTPases Rac1 and Cdc42 by repressing its inhibitor RhoGAP93B as well as by recruiting the Dock-Pak complex, which, through Pak, can also bind activated forms of both Rac1 and Cdc42 Rac1 and Cdc42 downregulation directly impacted on the intrinsic machinery that modulate ASCD in neural stem and progenitor cells. Specifically, compromising those small GTPases led to defects in the localization of the ASCD regulators, Par-6, aPKC, Cno, and Numb, and the concomitant formation of ectopic NBs (eNBs) within brain neural lineages, a phenotype that recapitulates that of Slit-Robo1 signaling impairment. The overexpression of robo1 caused similar defects than the loss of robo1. It was also a similar phenotype than for the loss of fra, the downregulation of Abl, or the expression of a kinase dead form of Abl (unable to repress Robo1). Hence, based on all those experiments, a working model proposes that Netrin-Fra signaling would be modulating, through Abl kinase, the Robo1 signaling threshold levels necessary to regulate in turn the correct activity of the small GTPases Rac1 and Cdc42. In fact, and according to this, the expression of Rac1V12 within NBII lineages caused the formation of eNBs and led to defects in the localization of aPKC in NB and progenitor cells, a similar phenotype than that observed after overexpressing robo1 in these NBII lineages. It would be interesting to determine whether this novel function of Netrin-Fra/DCC signaling regulating ASCD is also conserved in vertebrates, and whether Robo/Rac1-Cdc42 signaling threshold levels in the above-mentioned contexts are also critical for and dependent on Netrin-DCC signaling, as was have found in Drosophila (de Torres-Jurado, 2022).


NetA is located just distal to NetB on the chromosome: both genes are transcribed in the same direction, from proximal to distal relative to the centromere. The two genes occupy a region of approximately 150 kb in total (Harris, 1996 and Mitchell, 1996).
cDNA clone length - 3200 bp for NetA and 8300 for NetB

Bases in 5' UTR - 590 for NetA and 340 for NetB

Bases in 3' UTR - 490 for NetA and 1200 for NetB


Amino Acids - 727 for NETA and 793 for NETB

Structural Domains

The two fly genes are more similar to one another than either is to netrin genes from other species. This is also true of chick netrin-1 and netrin-2, and suggests that separate gene duplication events occurred in the vertebrate and insect lineages. The two fly proteins share a common domain organization and extensive amino acid sequence similarity over the entire length of their open reading frames. Overall, Drosophila Netrin-A is 41% identical to Netrin-B, 39% identical to UNC-6 and 40% identical to chick netrin-1. The N-terminal two-thirds of the netrins are homologous to the N-termini of the polypepide chains (A, B1 and B2) of laminin, a large (880 kD) heterotrimeric protein of the extracellular matrix. The homologous region corresponds to domains VI and V of the laminin chains. Both Drosophila netrins have an N-terminal signal peptide, followed by the domain VI homology region, the domain V homology region, and the C-terminal domain C. Domain V consists of three EGF repeat structures (Harris, 1996, Mitchell, 1996 and Serafini, 1994)

Netrin-A and Netrin-B: Evolutionary Homologs | Regulation | Developmental Biology | Effects of Mutation | References

date revised: 20 September 2023

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