The guidance of axons during embryonic development is likely to involve both adhesive and repulsive interactions between growth cones and their environment. We are characterising the role and mechanism of repulsion during the segmental outgrowth of motor and sensory axons in the somite mesoderm of chick embryos. Axons are confined to the anterior half of each somite by the expression in the posterior half of a glycoconjugate system (48×103Mr and 55×103Mr) that causes the collapse of dorsal root ganglion growth cones when applied in vitro. Enzymatic cleavage of this fraction with specific combinations of endo- and exoglycosidases removes collapse activity, suggesting that carbohydrate residues are involved in the execution of collapse. A similar activity is also detectable in normal adult grey matter, suggesting roles for repulsion beyond the development of spinal nerve segmentation.

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