Neurotrophins are essential for development and maintenance of the vertebrate nervous system. Paradoxically, although mature neurotrophins promote neuronal survival by binding to tropomyosin receptor kinases and p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR), pro-neurotrophins induce apoptosis in cultured neurons by engaging sortilin and p75NTR in a death-signaling receptor complex. Substantial amounts of neurotrophins are secreted in pro-form in vivo, yet their physiological significance remains unclear. We generated a sortilin-deficient mouse to examine the contribution of the p75NTR/sortilin receptor complex to neuronal viability. In the developing retina, Sortilin 1 (Sort1)−/− mice showed reduced neuronal apoptosis that was indistinguishable from that observed in p75NTR-deficient (Ngfr−/−) mice. To our surprise, although sortilin deficiency did not affect developmentally regulated apoptosis of sympathetic neurons, it did prevent their age-dependent degeneration. Furthermore, in an injury protocol, lesioned corticospinal neurons in Sort1−/− mice were protected from death. Thus, the sortilin pathway has distinct roles in pro-neurotrophin–induced apoptotic signaling in pathological conditions, but also in specific stages of neuronal development and aging.
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