The migration of oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) is modulated by secreted molecules in their environment and by cell–cell and matrix–cell interactions. Here, we ask whether membrane-anchored guidance cues, such as the ephrin ligands and their Eph receptors, participate in the control of OPC migration in the optic nerve. We postulate that EphA and EphB receptors, which are expressed on axons of retinal ganglion cells, interact with ephrins on the surface of OPCs. We show the expression of ephrinA5, ephrinB 2 and ephrinB3 in the migrating OPCs of the optic nerve as well as in the diencephalic sites from where they originate. In addition, we demonstrate that coated EphB2-Fc receptors, which are specific for ephrinB2/B3 ligands, induce dramatic changes in the contact and migratory properties of OPCs, indicating that axonal EphB receptors activate ephrinB signaling in OPCs. Based on these findings, we propose that OPCs are characterized by an ephrin code, and that Eph–ephrin interactions between axons and OPCs control the distribution of OPCs in the optic axonal tracts, and the progress and arrest of their migration.
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