Nerve growth factor (NGF) regulates many aspects of neuronal biology by retrogradely propagating signals along axons to the targets of those axons. How this occurs when axons contain a plethora of proteins that can silence those signals has long perplexed the neurotrophin field. In this issue of the JCI, Li et al. suggest an answer to this vexing problem, while exploring why the Elp1 gene that is mutated in familial dysautonomia (FD) causes peripheral neuropathy. They describe a distinctive function of Elp1 as a protein that is required to sustain NGF signaling by blocking the activity of its phosphatase that shuts off those signals. This finding helps explain the innervation deficits prominent in FD and reveals a unique role for Elp1 in the regulation of NGF-dependent TrkA activity.
David R. Kaplan, William C. Mobley