Projection neurons of the spinal cord dorsal horn which transmit pain, itch and temperature information to the brain comprise the anterolateral system (AS). A recent molecular and genetic study showed that many developing AS neurons express the transcription factor Phox2a, and provided insights into the mechanisms of their ontogeny and wiring of nociceptive neuronal circuits. Here we show that the loss of the axonal guidance and neuronal migration signal netrin1 results in impaired migration of mouse Phox2a+ AS neurons into the spinal lamina I. Furthermore, we show that in the absence of Dab1, an intracellular transducer of the neuronal migration signal reelin, the migration of spinal lamina V and lateral spinal nucleus Phox2a+ AS neurons is impaired, in line with deficits in nociception seen in mice with a loss of reelin signaling. Together, these results provide evidence that netrin1 and reelin control the development of spinal nociceptive projection neurons, suggesting a mechanistic explanation for studies that link sequence variations in human genes encoding these neurodevelopmental signals and abnormal pain sensation.
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