Spatially patterned gene expression for guided neurite extension

Tiffany Houchin-Ray, Alyssa Huang, Erin R. West, Marina Zelivyanskaya, Lonnie D. Shea*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Axon pathfinding by localized expression of guidance molecules is critical for the proper development of the nervous system. In this report, we present a well-defined spatially patterned gene expression system to investigate neurite guidance in vitro. Nonviral gene delivery was patterned by combining substrate-mediated gene delivery with soft lithography techniques, and the amount of protein produced at the region of localized expression was varied by altering the vector concentration and the width of the pattern, highlighting the flexibility of the system. A neuronal coculture model was used to investigate responses to spatial patterns of nerve growth factor (NGF) expression. The soluble NGF gradient elicited a guidance cue, and the degree of guidance was governed by the distance a neuron was cultured from the pattern and the time between accessory cell and neuron seedings. A portion of the diffusible NGF bound to the culture surface in the extracellular space, and the surface-associated NGF supported neuron survival and neurite outgrowth. However, the surface-bound NGF gradient alone did not elicit a guidance signal, and in fact masked the guidance cue by soluble NGF gradients. Mathematical modeling of NGF diffusion was used to predict the concentration gradients, and both the absolute and fractional gradients capable of guiding neurites produced by patterned gene expression differed substantially from the values obtained with existing engineered protein gradients. Spatially patterned gene expression provides a versatile tool to investigate the factors that may promote neurite guidance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)844-856
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2009


  • Dorsal root ganglia (DRG)
  • Gradient
  • Guidance
  • Neurotrophic factor
  • Substrate mediated gene delivery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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