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Competition for neurotrophic factor in the development of nerve connections

Van Ooyen, A., and Willshaw, D. J. (1999). Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 266: 883-892. [Full text: PDF]


The development of nerve connections is thought to involve competition among axons for survival promoting factors, or neurotrophins, which are released by the cells that are innervated by the axons. Although the notion of competition is widely used within neurobiology, there is little understanding of the nature of the competitive process and the underlying mechanisms.

We present a new theoretical model to analyse competition in the development of nerve connections. According to the model, the precise manner in which neurotrophins regulate the growth of axons -- in particular, the growth of the number of neurotrophin receptors -- determines what patterns of target innervation can develop. The regulation of neurotrophin receptors is also involved in the degeneration and regeneration of connections. Competition in our model can be influenced by factors dependent on and independent of neuronal electrical activity. Our results point to the need to measure directly the specific form of the regulation by neurotrophins of their receptors.

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