Topographic maps with a defined spatial ordering of neuronal connections are a key feature of brain organization. Such maps are believed to develop in response to complementary position-specific labels in presynaptic and postsynaptic fields. However, the complementary labeling molecules are not known. In the well studied visual map of retinal axons projecting to the tectum, the labels are hypothesized to be in gradients, without needing large numbers of cell-specific molecules. We recently cloned ELF-1 as a ligand for Eph family receptors. Here, RNA hybridization shows matching expression gradients for ELF-1 in the tectum and its receptor Mek4 in the retina. Binding activity detected with alkaline phosphatase fusions of ELF-1 and Mek4 also reveals gradients and provides direct evidence for molecular complementarity of gradients in reciprocal fields. ELF-1 and Mek4 may therefore play roles in retinotectal development and have properties predicted of topographic mapping labels.
Nakamoto, Masaru, "Complementary Gradients in Expression and Binding of ELF-1 and Mek4 in Development of the Topographic Retinotectal Projection Map" (1995). Biology Faculty Publications. 51.