Guillon, E., Bretaud, S., Ruggiero, F. (2016) Slow Muscle Precursors Lay Down a Collagen XV Matrix Fingerprint to Guide Motor Axon Navigation. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 36:2663-76.
The extracellular matrix (ECM) provides local positional information to guide motoneuron axons toward their muscle target. Collagen XV is a basement membrane component mainly expressed in skeletal muscle. We have identified two zebrafish paralogs of the human COL15A1 gene, col15a1a and col15a1b, which display distinct expression patterns. Here we show that col15a1b is expressed and deposited in the motor path ECM by slow muscle precursors also called adaxial cells. We further demonstrate that collagen XV-B deposition is both temporally and spatially regulated before motor axon extension from the spinal cord in such a way that it remains in this region after the adaxial cells have migrated toward the periphery of the myotome. Loss- and gain-of-function experiments in zebrafish embryos demonstrate that col15a1b expression and subsequent collagen XV-B deposition and organization in the motor path ECM depend on a previously undescribed two-step mechanism involving Hedgehog/Gli and unplugged/MuSK signaling pathways. In silico analysis predicts a putative Gli binding site in the col15a1b proximal promoter. Using col15a1b promoter-reporter constructs, we demonstrate that col15a1b participates in the slow muscle genetic program as a direct target of Hedgehog/Gli signaling. Loss and gain of col15a1b function provoke pathfinding errors in primary and secondary motoneuron axons both at and beyond the choice point where axon pathway selection takes place. These defects result in muscle atrophy and compromised swimming behavior, a phenotype partially rescued by injection of a smyhc1:col15a1b construct. These reveal an unexpected and novel role for collagen XV in motor axon pathfinding and neuromuscular development.
Significance statement In addition to the archetypal axon guidance cues, the extracellular matrix provides local information that guides motor axons from the spinal cord to their muscle targets. Many of the proteins involved are unknown. Using the zebrafish model, we identified an unexpected role of the extracellular matrix collagen XV in motor axon pathfinding. We show that the synthesis of collagen XV-B by slow muscle precursors and its deposition in the common motor path are dependent on a novel two-step mechanism that determines axon decisions at a choice point during motor axonogenesis. Zebrafish and humans use common molecular cues and regulatory mechanisms for the neuromuscular system development. And as such, our study reveals COL15A1 as a candidate gene for orphan neuromuscular disorders.