CURRENT ideas about the dependence of neurons on target-derived growth factors were formulated on the basis of experiments involving neurons with projections to the periphery1,2. Nerve growth factor (NGF) and recently identified members of the NGF family of neuronal growth factors, known as neurotrophins, are thought to regulate survival of sympathetic and certain populations of sensory ganglion cells during development3-8. Far less is known about factors that regulate the survival of spinal and cranial motor neurons, which also project to peripheral targets. NGF has not been shown to influence motor neuron survival9,10, and whether the newly identified neurotrophins promote motor neuron survival is unknown. We show here that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is retrogradely transported by motor neurons in neonatal rats and that local application of BDNF to transected sciatic nerve prevents the massive death of motor neurons that normally follows axotomy in the neonatal period. These results show that BDNF has survival-promoting effects on motor neurons and suggest that BDNF may influence motor neuron survival during development.
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