We investigated which neurotrophic factors may contribute to the divergence of two peripheral nerves emanating from the geniculate ganglion. We compared receptor mRNA profiles of the neurons that supply the nerves, and also the growth of their neurites in response to neurotrophic factors in culture. Three mRNAs, Gfra2, TrkA, and TrkC, were differentially expressed. Only one ligand, Neurturin, promoted substantially different nerve regrowth from the nerves, and therefore may contribute to nerve divergence. Three receptor mRNAs were expressed in 100% of the neurons: TrkB, TrkB.T2 (kinase-lacking isoform), and NCAM-140. Ligands for these Trks and FRα-1 promoted more outgrowth than ligands for the other receptors. NT-3 and BDNF synergistically promoted outgrowth. Finally, receptors are coexpressed at random rates, arguing against the existence of neuronal subtypes defined by a combinatorial code of these receptors.

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