Off-target effects of epidermal growth factor receptor antagonists mediate retinal ganglion cell disinhibited axon growth

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Inhibition of central nervous system axon growth is reportedly mediated in part by calcium-dependent phosphorylation of axonal epidermal growth factor receptor, with local administration of the epidermal growth factor receptor kinase inhibitors AG1478 and PD168393 to an optic nerve lesion site promoting adult retinal ganglion cell axon regeneration. Here, we show that epidermal growth factor receptor was neither constitutively expressed, nor activated in optic nerve axons in our non-regenerating and regenerating optic nerve injury models, a finding that is inconsistent with phosphorylated epidermal growth factor receptor-dependent intra-axonal signalling of central nervous system myelin-related axon growth inhibitory ligands. However, epidermal growth factor receptor was localized and activated within most glia in the retina and optic nerve post-injury, and thus an indirect glial-dependent mechanism for stimulated retinal ganglion cell axon growth by epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors seemed plausible. Using primary retinal cultures with added central nervous system myelin extracts, we confirmed previous reports that AG1478/PD168393 blocks epidermal growth factor receptor activation and promotes disinhibited neurite outgrowth. Paradoxically, neurites did not grow in central nervous system myelin extract-containing cultures after short interfering ribonucleic acid-mediated knockdown of epidermal growth factor receptor. However, addition of AG1478 restored neurite outgrowth to short interfering ribonucleic acid-treated cultures, implying that epidermal growth factor receptor does not mediate AG1478-dependent effects. TrkA-/B-/C-Fc fusion proteins and the kinase blocker K252a abrogated the neuritogenic activity in these cultures, correlating with the presence of the neurotrophins brain derived neurotrophic factor, nerve growth factor and neurotrophin-3 in the supernatant and increased intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate activity. Neurotrophins released by AG1478 stimulated disinhibited retinal ganglion cell axon growth in central nervous system myelin-treated cultures by the induction of regulated intramembraneous proteolysis of p75(NTR) and Rho inactivation. Retinal astrocytes/Muller cells and retinal ganglion cells were the source of neurotrophins, with neurite outgrowth halved in the presence of glial inhibitors. We attribute AG1478-stimulated neuritogenesis to the induced release of neurotrophins together with raised cyclic adenosine monophosphate levels in treated cultures, leading to axon growth and disinhibition by neurotrophin-induced regulated intramembraneous proteolysis of p75(NTR). These off-target effects of epidermal growth factor receptor kinase inhibition suggest a novel therapeutic approach for designing treatments to promote central nervous system axon regeneration.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3102-3121
Number of pages20
Early online date11 Aug 2009
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2009


  • EGFR, siRNA, neurite outgrowth, axon regeneration, disinhibition, AG1478, glia, RGC