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Concept: Semaphorin


Neuropilin (Nrp) receptors function as essential cell surface receptors for the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) family of proangiogenic cytokines and the semaphorin 3 (Sema3) family of axon guidance molecules. There are two Nrp homologues, Nrp1 and Nrp2, which bind to both overlapping and distinct members of the VEGF and Sema3 family of molecules. Nrp1 specifically binds the VEGF-A(164/5) isoform, which is essential for developmental angiogenesis. We demonstrate that VEGF-A specific binding is governed by Nrp1 residues in the b1 coagulation factor domain surrounding the invariant Nrp C-terminal arginine binding pocket. Further, we show that Sema3F does not display the Nrp-specific binding to the b1 domain seen with VEGF-A. Engineered soluble Nrp receptor fragments that selectively sequester ligands from the active signaling complex are an attractive modality for selectively blocking the angiogenic and chemorepulsive functions of Nrp ligands. Utilizing the information on Nrp ligand binding specificity, we demonstrate Nrp constructs that specifically sequester Sema3 in the presence of VEGF-A. This establishes that unique mechanisms are used by Nrp receptors to mediate specific ligand binding and that these differences can be exploited to engineer soluble Nrp receptors with specificity for Sema3.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Angiogenesis, Hormone, Vascular endothelial growth factor, Cell signaling, Endothelium, Neuropilin, Semaphorin


Inappropriate activation of neutrophils plays a pathological role in antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)-associated vasculitis (AAV). The aim of this study was to investigate the functions of semaphorin 4D (SEMA4D) in regulation of neutrophil activation, and its involvement in AAV pathogenesis.

Concepts: Immune system, White blood cell, Rheumatoid arthritis, Neutrophil granulocyte, Myeloperoxidase, Anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibody, Semaphorin, SEMA4D


The semaphorins and the plexins are a family of large, cysteine-rich proteins originally identified as regulators of axon growth and lymphocyte activation that are now known to provide motility and positional information for a number of cell and tissue types. For example, our group and others have shown that some malignancies over express Semaphorin 4D (S4D), which acts through its receptor Plexin-B1 (PB1) on endothelial cells to attract blood vessels from the surrounding stroma for the purpose of supporting tumor growth. While plexins are the known functional receptors for the semaphorins, there is evidence that transmembrane semaphorins may transmit a signal themselves through their short cytoplasmic tail, a phenomenon known as ‘reverse signaling.’ We used computational methods based upon correlated evolution of sequences of interacting proteins, mutational analysis and in vitro and in vivo measurements of tumor aggressiveness to show that when bound to PB1, transmembrane S4D associates with the Rac GTPase exchange factor T lymphoma invasion and metastasis (Tiam) 1, which activates Rac and promotes proliferation, invasion and metastasis in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) cells. These results suggest that not only can S4D production by tumor cells affect the microenvironment, but engagement of this semaphorin at the cell surface activates a reverse signaling mechanism that influences tumor aggressiveness in OSCC.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Cancer, Cell membrane, Blood vessel, Cytoplasm, Squamous cell carcinoma, Semaphorin


Failure of remyelination of multiple sclerosis (MS) lesions contributes to neurodegeneration that correlates with chronic disability in patients. Currently, there are no available treatments to reduce neurodegeneration, but one therapeutic approach to fill this unmet need is to promote remyelination. As many demyelinated MS lesions contain plentiful oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), but no mature myelinating oligodendrocytes, research has previously concentrated on promoting OPC maturation. However, some MS lesions contain few OPCs, and therefore, remyelination failure may also be secondary to OPC recruitment failure. Here, in a series of MS samples, we determined how many lesions contained few OPCs, and correlated this to pathological subtype and expression of the chemotactic molecules Semaphorin (Sema) 3A and 3F. 37 % of MS lesions contained low numbers of OPCs, and these were mostly chronic active lesions, in which cells expressed Sema3A (chemorepellent). To test the hypothesis that differential Sema3 expression in demyelinated lesions alters OPC recruitment and the efficiency of subsequent remyelination, we used a focal myelinotoxic mouse model of demyelination. Adding recombinant ®Sema3A (chemorepellent) to demyelinated lesions reduced OPC recruitment and remyelination, whereas the addition of rSema3F (chemoattractant), or use of transgenic mice with reduced Sema3A expression increased OPC recruitment and remyelination. We conclude that some MS lesions fail to remyelinate secondary to reduced OPC recruitment, and that chemotactic molecules are involved in the mechanism, providing a new group of drug targets to improve remyelination, with a specific target in the Sema3A receptor neuropilin-1.

Concepts: Gene expression, Bacteria, Chemotaxis, Cell biology, Multiple sclerosis, Mice, Genetically modified organism, Semaphorin


Semaphorin family proteins act on cells to mediate both repulsive and attractive guidance via binding to plexin family receptors, thereby playing fundamental roles in the morphogenesis and homeostasis of various tissues. Although semaphorin-plexin signaling is implicated in various diseases and is thus a target of intensive research, our mechanistic understanding of how semaphorins activate plexins on the cell surface is limited. Here, we describe unique anti-plexin-A1 antibodies that can induce a collapsed morphology in mouse dendritic cells as efficiently as the semaphorin 3A (Sema3A) ligand. Precise epitope analysis indicates that these “semaphorin-mimicking” antibodies dimerize cell-surface plexin-A1 by binding to the N-terminal sema domain of the plexin at sites away from the interface used by the Sema3A ligand. Structural analysis of plexin-A1 fragments using negative stain electron microscopy further revealed that this agonistic capacity is closely linked to the location and orientation of antibody binding. In addition, the full-length plexin-A1 ectodomain exhibited a highly curved “C” shape, reinforcing the very unusual dimeric receptor conformation of this protein at the cell surface when engaged with Sema3A or agonistic antibodies.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Proteins, Protein, Gene, Microscope, Receptor, Semaphorin


Semaphorin 4D (SEMA4D, CD100) and its receptor plexin-B1 are broadly expressed in murine and human tumors, and their expression has been shown to correlate with invasive disease in several human tumors. SEMA4D normally functions to regulate the motility and differentiation of multiple cell types, including those of the immune, vascular, and nervous systems. In the setting of cancer, SEMA4D/PLXNB1 interactions have been reported to affect vascular stabilization and transactivation of ERBB2, but effects on immune cell trafficking in the tumor microenvironment have not been previously investigated. We describe a novel immunomodulatory function of SEMA4D, whereby strong expression of SEMA4D at the invasive margins of actively growing tumors influences the infiltration and distribution of leukocytes in the tumor microenvironment (TME). Antibody neutralization of SEMA4D disrupts this gradient of expression, enhances recruitment of activated monocytes and lymphocytes into the tumor, and shifts the balance of cells and cytokines toward a pro-inflammatory and anti-tumor milieu within the TME. This orchestrated change in the tumor architecture was associated with durable tumor rejection in murine Colon26 and ERBB2+ mammary carcinoma models. The immunomodulatory activity of anti-SEMA4D antibody can be enhanced by combination with other immunotherapies, including immune checkpoint inhibition and chemotherapy. Strikingly, the combination of anti-SEMA4D antibody with antibody to CTLA-4 acts synergistically to promote complete tumor rejection and survival. Inhibition of SEMA4D represents a novel mechanism and therapeutic strategy to promote functional immune infiltration into the TME and inhibit tumor progression.

Concepts: Immune system, White blood cell, Lymphocyte, Antibody, Cancer, Immunology, Semaphorin, SEMA4D


The semaphorin proteins are among the best-studied families of guidance cues, contributing to morphogenesis and homeostasis in a wide range of tissue types. The major semaphorin receptors are plexins and neuropilins, however other receptors and co-receptors are capable to mediate signaling by semaphorins. These guidance proteins were originally identified as growth cone “collapsing factors” or as inhibitory signals, crucial for nervous system development. Since those seminal discoveries, the list of functions of semaphorins has rapidly grown. Over the past few years, a growing body of data indicates that semaphorins are involved in the regulation of the immune and vascular systems, in tumor growth/cancer cell metastasis and in neural circuit formation. Recently there has been increasing emphasis on research to determine the potential influence of semaphorins on the development and homeostasis of hormone systems and how circulating reproductive hormones regulate their expression and functions. Here, we focus on the emerging role of semaphorins in the development, differentiation and plasticity of unique neurons that secrete gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which are essential for the acquisition and maintenance of reproductive competence in all vertebrates. Genetic evidence is also provided showing that insufficient semaphorin signaling contributes to some forms of reproductive disorders in humans, characterized by the reduction or failure of sexual competence. Finally, we will review some studies with the goal of highlighting how the expression of semaphorins and their receptors might be regulated by gonadal hormones in physiological and pathological conditions.

Concepts: Immune system, Nervous system, Protein, Gene expression, Metabolism, Hormone, Cellular differentiation, Semaphorin


Our previous study showed that wedelolactone, isolated from Ecliptae herba, enhanced osteoblastogenesis but inhibited osteoclastogenesis through Sema3A signaling pathway. This study aims to investigate the role of other semaphorins in wedelolactone-enhanced osteoblastogenesis and -inhibited osteoclastogenesis. Wedelolactone inhibited RANKL-induced Sema4D and Sema7A production, but had no effect on RANKL-reduced Sema6D expression in osteoclastic RAW264.7 cells. In mouse bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BMSC), wedelolactone reversed osteogenic medium(OS)-reduced Sema7A expression and OS-enhanced Sema3E mRNA expression, but no effect on OS-reduced Sema3B mRNA expression. Addition of Sema4D antibody promoted wedelolactone-reduced TRAP activity and bone resorption pit formation. Wedelolactone combined with Sema4D antibody inhibited the formation of Sema4D-Plexin B1 complex. In co-culture of BMSC with RAW264.7 cells, Sema7A antibody, similar with Sema 3A antibody, reversed wedelolactone-enhanced ALP activity and mineralization level, but promoted wedelolactone-inhibited TRAP activity. However, Sema3E and Sema3B antibodies had no effect. Further, wedelolactone enhanced the binding of Sema7A with PlexinC1 and Beta1, but addition of Sema7A antibody partially blocked this binding. Our data demonstrated that wedelolactone inhibited Sema4D production and Sema4D-PlexinB1 complex formation in RAW264.7 cells, thereafter inhibiting osteoclastogenesis. At the same time, wedelolactone enhanced osteoblastogenesis through promoting Sema7A production and Sema7A-PlexinC1-Beta1 complex formation in BMSC.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Bone, Stem cell, Mesenchymal stem cell, Bone marrow, Messenger RNA, Semaphorin


Class-3 semaphorin guidance factors bind to receptor complexes containing neuropilin and plexin receptors. A semaphorin may bind to several receptor complexes containing somewhat different constituents, resulting in diverse effects on cell migration. U87MG glioblastoma cells express both neuropilins and the four class-A plexins. They respond by cytoskeletal collapse and cell contraction to sema3A or sema3B but fail to contract in response to Sema3C, Sema3D, Sema3G or sema3E even when class-A plexins are over-expressed in the cells. In-contrast, expression of recombinant plexin-D1 enabled contraction in response to these semaphorins. Surprisingly, unlike sema3D and sema3G, sema3C also induced the contraction and repulsion of plexin-D1 expressing U87MG cells in which both neuropilins were knocked-out using CRISPR/cas9. In the absence of neuropilins the EC-50 of sema3C was 5.5 fold higher, indicating that the neuropilins function as enhancers of plexin-D1 mediated sema3C signaling but are not absolutely required for sema3C signal transduction. Interestingly, in the absence of neuropilins, plexin-A4 formed complexes with plexin-D1, and was required in addition to plexin-D1 to enable sema3C induced signal transduction.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Signal transduction, Hormone, Signal, Neuropilin, Semaphorin, Plexin


Neurodevelopmental programs are frequently dysregulated in cancer. Semaphorins are a large family of guidance cues that direct neuronal network formation and are also implicated in cancer. Semaphorins have two kinds of receptors, neuropilins and plexins. Besides their role in development, semaphorin signaling may promote or suppress tumors depending on their context. Sema3C is a secreted semaphorin that plays an important role in the maintenance of cancer stem-like cells, promotes migration and invasion, and may facilitate angiogenesis. Therapeutic strategies that inhibit Sema3C signaling may improve cancer control. This review will summarize the current research on the Sema3C pathway and its potential as a therapeutic target.

Concepts: Semaphorin