Axon pruning and neuronal cell death constitute two major regressive events that enable the establishment of fully mature brain architecture and connectivity. Although the cellular mechanisms for these two events are thought to be distinct, recent evidence has indicated the direct involvement of axon guidance molecules, including semaphorins, netrins, and ephrins, in controlling both processes. Here, we review how axon guidance cues regulate regressive events in paradigmatic models of neural development, from early control of apoptosis of neural progenitors, to later maintenance of neuronal survival and stereotyped pruning of axonal branches. These new findings are also discussed in the context of neural diseases and the potential links between axon pruning and degeneration.
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