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Blood vessels and neurons share several types of guidance cues and cell surface receptors to control their behaviour during embryogenesis. The transmembrane protein NRP1 is present on blood vessels and nerves. NRP1 binds two structurally diverse ligands, the semaphorin SEMA3A and the VEGF164 isoform of vascular endothelial growth factor. SEMA3A was originally identified as a repulsive cue for developing axons that acts by signalling through receptor complexes containing NRP1 and plexins. In vitro, SEMA3A also inhibits integrin function and competes with VEGF164 for binding to NRP1 to modulate the migration of endothelial cells. These observations resulted in a widely accepted model of vascular patterning in which the balance of VEGF164 and SEMA3A determines endothelial cell behaviour. However, we now demonstrate that SEMA3A is not required for angiogenesis in the mouse, which instead is controlled by VEGF164. We find that SEMA3A, but not VEGF164, is required for axon patterning of limb nerves, even though the competition between VEGF164 and SEMA3A for NRP1 affects the migration of neuronal progenitor cells in vitro and has been hypothesised to control axon guidance. Moreover, we show that there is no genetic interaction between SEMA3A and VEGF164 during vasculogenesis, angiogenesis or limb axon patterning, suggesting that ligand competition for NRP1 binding cannot explain neurovascular congruence, as previously suggested. We conclude that NRP1 contributes to both neuronal and vascular patterning by preferentially relaying SEMA3A signals in peripheral axons and VEGF164 signals in blood vessels.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1833 - 1843


Animals, Axons, Body Patterning, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Ligands, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Neovascularization, Physiologic, Neurons, Neuropilin-1, Neuropilins, Semaphorin-3A, Semaphorins, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A