Axon guidance and target recognition depend on neuronal cell surface receptors that recognize and elicit selective growth cone responses to guidance cues in the environment. Contactin, a cell adhesion/recognition molecule of the immunoglobulin gene superfamily, regulates axon growth and fasciculation in vitro, but its role in vivo is unknown. To assess its function in the developing nervous system, we have ablated contactin gene expression in mice. Contactin(-/-) mutants displayed a severe ataxic phenotype consistent with defects in the cerebellum and survived only until postnatal day 18. Analysis of the contactin(-/-) mutant cerebellum revealed defects in granule cell axon guidance and in dendritic projections from granule and Golgi cells. These results demonstrate that contactin controls axonal and dendritic interactions of cerebellar interneurons and contributes to cerebellar microorganization.
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