Adaptation is not required to explain the long-term response of axons to molecular gradients

Jun Xu, William J. Rosoff, Jeffrey S. Urbach, Geoffrey J. Goodhill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


It has been suggested that growth cones navigating through the developing nervous system might display adaptation, so that their response to gradient signals is conserved over wide variations in ligand concentration. Recently however, a new chemotaxis assay that allows the effect of gradient parameters on axonal trajectories to be finely varied has revealed a decline in gradient sensitivity on either side of an optimal concentration. We show that this behavior can be quantitatively reproduced with a computational model of axonal chemotaxis that does not employ explicit adaptation. Two crucial components of this model required to reproduce the observed sensitivity are spatial and temporal averaging. These can be interpreted as corresponding, respectively, to the spatial spread of signaling effects downstream from receptor binding, and to the finite time over which these signaling effects decay. For spatial averaging, the model predicts that an effective range of roughly one-third of the extent of the growth cone is optimal for detecting small gradient signals. For temporal decay, a timescale of about 3 minutes is required for the model to reproduce the experimentally observed sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4545-4552
Number of pages8
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • Axon guidance
  • Chemotaxis
  • Computational model
  • Dorsal root ganglion
  • Nerve growth factor


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