Eph receptors and their ligands, ephrins, are abundantly expressed in neuroepithelial cells of the early embryonic brain. Overstimulation of Eph signaling in vivo increases apoptotic cell death of neuroepithelial cells, whereas null mutation of the Eph gene leads to the development of a larger brain during embryogenesis. Thus, it appears that Eph-ephrin signaling plays a role in regulating apoptotic cell death of neuroepithelial cells, thereby influencing brain size during embryonic development. Interestingly, Eph-ephrin signaling is bi-directional, with forward signaling from ephrin- to Eph-expressing cells and reverse signaling from Eph- to ephrin-expressing cells. However, it is not clear whether this forward or reverse signaling plays a role in regulating the size of the neuroepithelial cell population during early brain development. Also, Eph receptors and their corresponding ligands are mutually exclusive in their expression domains, and they encounter each other only at interfaces between their expression domains. This expression pattern may be a critical mechanism for preventing overstimulation of Eph-ephrin signaling. Nevertheless, Eph receptors are co-expressed with their corresponding ligands in certain brain regions. Recently, two studies demonstrated that brain region-specific apoptosis may be triggered by the overlapping expression of Eph and ephrin, a theme that will be explored in this mini-review.
Keywords: EphA, ephrin-A, apoptosis, early brain development