Journal of Biological Chemistry
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Neuropilins (NRPs) are receptors for the major chemorepulsive axonal guidance cue semaphorins (Sema). The interaction of Sema3A/NRP1 during development leads to the collapse of growth cones. Here we show that Sema3A also induces death of cultured cortical neurons through NRP1. A specific NRP1 inhibitory peptide ameliorated Sema3A-evoked cortical axonal retraction and neuronal death. Moreover, Sema3A was also involved in cerebral ischemia-induced neuronal death. Expression levels of Sema3A and NRP1, but not NRP2, were significantly increased early during brain reperfusion following transient focal cerebral ischemia. NRP1 inhibitory peptide delivered to the ischemic brain was potently neuroprotective and prevented the loss of motor functions in mice. The integrity of the injected NRP1 inhibitory peptide into the brain remained unchanged, and the intact peptide permeated the ischemic hemisphere of the brain as determined using MALDI-MS-based imaging. Mechanistically, NRP1-mediated axonal collapse and neuronal death is through direct and selective interaction with the cytoplasmic tyrosine kinase Fer. Fer RNA interference effectively attenuated Sema3A-induced neurite retraction and neuronal death in cortical neurons. More importantly, down-regulation of Fer expression using Fer-specific RNA interference attenuated cerebral ischemia-induced brain damage. Together, these studies revealed a previously unknown function of NRP1 in signaling Sema3A-evoked neuronal death through Fer in cortical neurons.