Galectin-1 (GAL-1), a member of a family of β-galactoside binding animal lectins, is predominantly expressed in isolectin B4 (IB4)-binding small non-peptidergic (glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF)-responsive) sensory neurons in the sections of adult rat dorsal root ganglia (DRG), but its functional role and the regulatory mechanisms of its expression in the peripheral nervous system remain unclear. In the present study, both recombinant nerve growth factor (NGF) and GDNF (50 ng/ml) promoted neurite outgrowth from cultured adult rat DRG neurons, whereas GDNF, but not NGF, significantly increased the number of IB4-binding neurons and the relative protein expression of GAL-1 in the neuron-enriched culture of DRG. The GAL-1 expression in immortalized adult rat Schwann cells IFRS1 and DRG neuron-IFRS1 cocultures was unaltered by treatment with GDNF, which suggests that GDNF/GAL-1 signaling axis is more related to neurite outgrowth, rather than neuron-Schwann cell interactions. The GDNF-induced neurite outgrowth and GAL-1 upregulation were attenuated by anti-GDNF family receptor (RET) antibody and phosphatidyl inositol-3′-phosphate-kinase (PI3K) inhibitor LY294002, suggesting that the neurite-outgrowth promoting activity of GDNF may be attributable, at least partially, to the upregulation of GAL-1 through RET-PI3K pathway. On the contrary, no significant differences were observed between GAL-1 knockout and wild-type mice in DRG neurite outgrowth in the presence or absence of GDNF. Considerable immunohistochemical colocalization of GAL-3 with GAL-1 in DRG sections and GDNF-induced upregulation of GAL-3 in cultured DRG neurons imply the functional redundancy between these galectins.
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