The cyclic-AMP response element-binding (CREB) protein family of transcription factors plays a crucial role in supporting the survival of neurons. However, a cell-autonomous role has not been addressed in vivo. To investigate the cell-specific role of CREB, we used as a model developing sympathetic neurons, whose survival in vitro is dependent on CREB activity. We generated mice lacking CREB in noradrenergic (NA) and adrenergic neurons and compared them with the phenotype of the germline CREB mutant. Whereas the germline CREB mutant revealed increased apoptosis of NA neurons and misplacement of sympathetic precursors, the NA neuron-specific mutation unexpectedly led to reduced levels of caspase-3-dependent apoptosis in sympathetic ganglia during the period of naturally occurring neuronal death. A reduced level of p75 neurotrophin receptor expression in the absence of CREB was shown to be responsible. Thus, our analysis indicates that the activity of cell-autonomous pro-survival signalling is operative in developing sympathetic neurons in the absence of CREB.
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