Research Article

Pre-Target Axon Sorting Establishes the Neural Map Topography

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Science  31 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5940, pp. 585-590
DOI: 10.1126/science.1173596

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Mapping the Neuronal Map

In vertebrates, sensory information is topographically represented as a neural map in the brain. How is the neural map formed in the brain? Nearly a half-century ago, Roger Sperry proposed the “chemoaffinity” model, in which the positional cues on the target determine the axonal projection site, thereby establishing the topographic neural map. However, molecular mechanisms of topographic map formation remain controversial. Imai et al. (p. 585, published online 9 July; see the Perspective by Miyamichi and Luo) now report that the topographic map is formed by axon-axon interactions before the axons reach the target. In the mouse olfactory system, the topography of the map is determined by the relative expression levels of a guidance receptor, Neuropilin-1, and its repulsive ligand, Semaphorin-3A, expressed in axons. Topographic organization occurs even in the absence of the target, the olfactory bulb. These findings require that Sperry's model, which suggests that only the targets determine the topography of neural maps, needs to be reconsidered.


Sensory information detected by the peripheral nervous system is represented as a topographic map in the brain. It has long been thought that the topography of the map is determined by graded positional cues that are expressed by the target. Here, we analyzed the pre-target axon sorting for olfactory map formation in mice. In olfactory sensory neurons, an axon guidance receptor, Neuropilin-1, and its repulsive ligand, Semaphorin-3A, are expressed in a complementary manner. We found that expression levels of Neuropilin-1 determined both pre-target sorting and projection sites of axons. Olfactory sensory neuron–specific knockout of Semaphorin-3A perturbed axon sorting and altered the olfactory map topography. Thus, pre-target axon sorting plays an important role in establishing the topographic order based on the relative levels of guidance molecules expressed by axons.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

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