The Eph family of tyrosine kinase receptors has recently been implicated in various processes involving the detection of environmental cues such as axonal guidance, targeted cell migration and boundary formation. We have inactivated the mouse EphA4 gene to investigate its functions during development. Homozygous EphA4 mutant animals show peroneal muscular atrophy correlating with the absence of the peroneal nerve, the main dorsal nerve of the hindlimb. This phenotype is also observed, although with a lower penetrance, in heterozygotes. During normal hindlimb innervation, motor axons converge towards the sciatic plexus region at the base of the limb bud, where they must choose between dorsal and ventral trajectories within the limb. Among the axons emerging from the sciatic plexus, dorsal projections show higher levels of EphA4 protein than ventral axons. In EphA4 mutant mice, presumptive dorsal motor axons fail to enter the dorsal compartment of the limb and join the ventral nerve. Our data therefore suggest that the level of EphA4 protein in growing limb motor axons is involved in the selection of dorsal versus ventral trajectories, thus contributing to the topographic organisation of motor projections.

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