Semaphorin 3A (Sema3A) binds to neuropilin-1 (NP1) and activates the transmembrane Plexin to transduce a repulsive axon guidance signal. Here, we show that Sema3 signals are transduced equally effectively by PlexinA1 or PlexinA2, but not by PlexinA3. Deletion analysis of the PlexinA1 ectodomain demonstrates that the sema domain prevents PlexinA1 activation in the basal state. Sema-deleted PlexinA1 is constitutively active, producing cell contraction, growth cone collapse, and inhibition of neurite outgrowth. The sema domain of PlexinA1 physically associates with the remainder of the PlexinA1 ectodomain and can reverse constitutive activation. Both the sema portion and the remainder of the ectodomain of PlexinA1 associate with NP1 in a Sema3A-independent fashion. Plexin A1 is autoinhibited by its sema domain, and Sema3A/NP1 releases this inhibition.
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