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Serotonin functions as a bidirectional guidance molecule regulating growth cone motility


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Vicenzi, S ORCID: 0000-0001-5670-7169, Foa, L ORCID: 0000-0003-4131-8341 and Gasperini, RJ ORCID: 0000-0001-6859-1247 2020 , 'Serotonin functions as a bidirectional guidance molecule regulating growth cone motility' , Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences , doi: 10.1007/s00018-020-03628-2.

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The neurotransmitter serotonin has been implicated in a range of complex neurological disorders linked to alterations of neuronal circuitry. Serotonin is synthesized in the developing brain before most neuronal circuits become fully functional, suggesting that serotonin might play a distinct regulatory role in shaping circuits prior to its function as a classical neurotransmitter. In this study, we asked if serotonin acts as a guidance cue by examining how serotonin alters growth cone motility of rodent sensory neurons in vitro. Using a growth cone motility assay, we found that serotonin acted as both an attractive and repulsive guidance cue through a narrow concentration range. Extracellular gradients of 50 µM serotonin elicited attraction, mediated by the serotonin 5-HT2a receptor while 100 µM serotonin elicited repulsion mediated by the 5-HT1b receptor. Importantly, high resolution imaging of growth cones indicated that these receptors signalled through their canonical pathways of endoplasmic reticulum-mediated calcium release and cAMP depletion, respectively. This novel characterisation of growth cone motility in response to serotonin gradients provides compelling evidence that secreted serotonin acts at the molecular level as an axon guidance cue to shape neuronal circuit formation during development.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Vicenzi, S and Foa, L and Gasperini, RJ
Keywords: serotonin, growth cone, axon guidance, guidance cue, circuit development, axon pathfnding
Journal or Publication Title: Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Publisher: Birkhaeuser Science
ISSN: 1420-9071
DOI / ID Number: 10.1007/s00018-020-03628-2
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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020. The finalpublication is available at:

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