Indexed on: 30 Oct '01Published on: 30 Oct '01Published in: Experimental Neurology
During early postnatal development, apoptosis of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) is regulated by target contact with the optic tectum. The neurotrophins BDNF and NT-4, but not NGF, prevent the apoptosis of retinal ganglion cells that is otherwise observed after target ablation or axotomy. Thus receptors activated by BDNF and NT-4 are candidates to mediate the early postnatal survival of RGCs. BDNF and NT-4, but not NGF, bind to all isoforms of the receptor TrkB, whether or not they contain a tyrosine kinase domain. To examine the roles of TrkB receptor isoforms in early postnatal survival, we compared RGC numbers in wild-type mice to those in a mutant lacking all isoforms of TrkB. Surprisingly, no reduction in RGCs was observed in the mutant at postnatal day 16, the latest age at which these animals are consistently viable, so TrkB signaling is not essential for target-dependent survival of these cells. In wild-type mice, RGCs also are lost gradually during adulthood, possibly due to oxidative stress. To determine whether TrkB signaling regulates this phase of RGC degeneration, RGC numbers were examined in a viable mutant of TrkB that expresses only about 25% the normal level of TrkB receptor kinase. Compared to controls, approximately 20% of the RGC were lost in mutant 3-month-old-animals. Thus, TrkB signaling is not required for survival of RGCs during the period of target-dependent survival, but does appear to reduce degeneration of RGCs in adult animals.