Target-derived influences of nerve growth factor on neuronal survival and differentiation are well documented, though effects of other neurotrophins are less clear. To examine the influence of NT-3 neurotrophin overexpression in a target tissue of sensory and sympathetic neurons, transgenic mice were isolated that overexpress NT-3 in the epidermis. Overexpression of NT-3 led to a 42% increase in the number of dorsal root ganglia sensory neurons, a 70% increase in the number of trigeminal sensory neurons, and a 32% increase in sympathetic neurons. Elevated NT-3 also caused enlargement of touch dome mechanoreceptor units, sensory end organs innervated by slowly adapting type 1 (SA1) neurons. The enlarged touch dome units of the transgenics had an increased number of associated Merkel cells, cells at which SA1s terminate. An additional alteration of skin innervation in NT-3 transgenics was an increased density of myelinated circular endings associated with the piloneural complex. The enhancement of innervation to the skin was accompanied by a doubling in the number of sensory neurons expressing trkC. In addition, measures of nerve fibers in cross-sectional profiles of cutaneous saphenous nerves of transgenics showed a 60% increase in myelinated fibers. These results indicate that in vivo overexpression of NT-3 by the epidermis enhances the number of sensory and sympathetic neurons and the development of selected sensory endings of the skin.

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