Striking parallels exist between immune and nervous system cellular signalling mechanisms. Molecules originally shown to be critical for immune responses also serve neuronal functions, and similarly neural guidance cues can modulate immune function. We show here that semaphorin 7A (Sema7A), a membrane-anchored member of the semaphorin family of guidance proteins previously known for its immunomodulatory effects, can also mediate neuronal functions. Unlike many other semaphorins, which act as repulsive guidance cues, Sema7A enhances central and peripheral axon growth and is required for proper axon tract formation during embryonic development. Unexpectedly, Sema7A enhancement of axon outgrowth requires integrin receptors and activation of MAPK signalling pathways. These findings define a previously unknown biological function for semaphorins, identify an unexpected role for integrins and integrin-dependent intracellular signalling in mediating semaphorin responses, and provide a framework for understanding and interfering with Sema7A function in both immune and nervous systems.
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