The EPH-related transmembrane tyrosine kinases constitute the largest known family of receptor-like tyrosine kinases, with many members displaying specific patterns of expression in the developing and adult nervous system. A family of cell surface-bound ligands exhibiting distinct, but overlapping, specificities for these EPH-related kinases was identified. These ligands were unable to act as conventional soluble factors. However, they did function when presented in membrane-bound form, suggesting that they require direct cell-to-cell contact to activate their receptors. Membrane attachment may serve to facilitate ligand dimerization or aggregation, because antibody-mediated clustering activated previously inactive soluble forms of these ligands.

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