The p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR) plays an integral role in patterning the sympathetic nervous system during development. Initially, p75NTR is expressed at low levels as sympathetic axons project toward their targets, which enables neurotrophin-3 (NT3) to activate TrkA receptors and promote growth. Upon reaching nerve growth factor (NGF) producing tissues, p75NTR is upregulated, resulting in formation of TrkA-p75 complexes, which are high-affinity binding sites selective for NGF, thereby blunting NT3 signaling. The level of p75NTR expressed on the neuron surface is instrumental in regulating trophic factor response; however, the mechanisms by which p75NTR expression is regulated are poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate a rapid, translation independent increase in surface expression of p75NTR in response to NGF in rat sympathetic neurons. p75NTR was mobilized to the neuron surface from GGA3-postitive vesicles through activation of the GTPase Arf6, which was stimulated by NGF, but not NT3 binding to TrkA. Arf6 activation required PI3 kinase activity and was prevented by an inhibitor of the cytohesin family of Arf6 guanine nucleotide exchange factors. Overexpression of a constitutively active Arf6 mutant (Q67L) was sufficient to significantly increase surface expression of p75NTR even in the absence of NGF. Functionally, expression of active Arf6 markedly attenuated the ability of NT3 to promote neuronal survival and neurite outgrowth, whereas the NGF response was unaltered. These data suggest that NGF activation of Arf6 through TrkA is critical for the increase in p75NTR surface expression that enables the switch in neurotrophin responsiveness during development in the sympathetic nervous system. p75NTR is instrumental in the regulation of neuronal survival and apoptosis during development and is also implicated as a contributor to aberrant neurodegeneration in numerous conditions. Therefore, a better understanding of the mechanisms that mediate p75NTR surface availability may provide insight into how and why neurodegenerative processes manifest and reveal new therapeutic targets. Results from this study indicate a novel mechanism by which p75NTR can be rapidly shuttled to the cell surface from existing intracellular pools and explores a unique pathway by which NGF regulates the sympathetic innervation of target tissues, which has profound consequences for the function of these organs.
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