The effects of extracellular matrix and osteogenic protein-1 on the morphological differentiation of rat sympathetic neurons

Pamela J Lein, Xin Guo, Ann Marie Hedges, David Rueger, Mary Johnson, Dennis Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The growth patterns of axons and dendrites differ with respect to their number, length, branching, and spatial orientation; therefore, it is likely that these processes differ in their growth requirements. To examine this hypothesis, we have been analyzing the responses of cultured rat sympathetic neurons to three types of stimuli: large structural proteins of the extracellular matrix, matrix-associated growth factors, and neurotrophins. Purified structural proteins such as laminin and collagen IV have been found to promote only axonal growth; whereas the matrix associated growth factor, osteogenic protein-1, selectively stimulates dendritic growth. In contrast, nerve growth factor modulates the growth of both types of processes. These data suggest that process-specific interactions with the extracellular environment may be critical determinants of cell shape in neurons. Perinatal rat sympathetic neurons grown in culture in the absence of serum or glial cells extend a single process which is axonal in nature. Exposure to osteogenic protein-1 causes the formation of additional processes which express the morphological, cytoskeletal, and ultrastructural characteristics of dendrites. Consistent with observations on the regulation of dendritic growth in sympathetic neurons in situ, the dendrite-promoting activity of osteogenic protein-1 is independent of synaptic or electrical activity, but is modulated by nerve growth factor. In the presence of optimal concentrations of osteogenic protein-1 and nerve growth factor, the size of the dendritic arbor extended by cultured sympathetic neurons approximates that seen in situ at comparable developmental stages. Osteogenic protein-1 does not promote dendritic growth in cultured neurons obtained from embryonic ciliary, dorsal root, trigeminal or nodose ganglia, suggesting that its morphogenetic effects are cell selective. Since mRNA for osteogenic protein-1 is expressed in;mature as well as embryonic target tissues of the sympathetic nervous system, we also examined the effects of osteogenic protein-1 on cultures of sympathetic neurons derived from adult rats. Consistent with results obtained with perinatal neurons, osteogenic protein-1 selectively promoted dendritic growth in adult neurons. These data suggest that this matrix-associated growth factor could play a role not only in the morphogenesis of the developing nervous system, but also in the maintenance and remodeling of dendritic structures in the mature animal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-215
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Developmental Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Bone morphogenetic protein
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Morphological differentiation
  • Nerve growth factor
  • Osteogenic protein-1
  • Sympathetic neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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