Formation of proper neuromuscular connections is a process coordinated by both motoneuron-intrinsic and target-dependent programs. Under these programs, motoneurons innervate target muscles, escape programmed cell death during fetal development, and form neuromuscular junctions (NMJ). Although a number of studies have revealed molecules involved in axon guidance to target muscles and NMJ formation, little is known about the molecular mechanisms linking intramuscular innervation and target-derived trophic factor-dependent prevention of motoneuron apoptosis. Here we studied the physiological function of CLAC-P/collagen XXV, a transmembrane-type collagen originally identified as a component of senile plaque amyloid of Alzheimer's disease brains, by means of generating Col25a1-deficient (KO) mice. Col25a1 KO mice died immediately after birth of respiratory failure. In Col25a1 KO mice, motor axons projected properly toward the target muscles but failed to elongate and branch within the muscle, followed by degeneration of axons. Failure of muscular innervation in Col25a1 KO mice led to excessive apoptosis during development, resulting in almost complete and exclusive loss of spinal motoneurons and immaturity in skeletal muscle development. Bax deletion in Col25a1 KO mice rescued motoneurons from apoptosis, although motor axons remained halted around the muscle entry site. Furthermore, these motoneurons were positive for phosphorylated c-Jun, an indicator of insufficient supply of target-derived survival signals. Together, these observations indicate that CLAC-P/collagen XXV is a novel essential factor that regulates the initial phase of intramuscular motor innervation, which is required for subsequent target-dependent motoneuron survival and NMJ formation during development.
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