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Neurotrophins are growth factors of the nervous system

They are a class of secreted proteins that encourage survival, development and function of neurons and nervous tissue. They are promoting the survival of neurons, influencing synaptic functions and are capable of signaling particular cells to differentiate or grow. Neurotrophins that promote the survival of neurons are known as neurotrophic factors and act by preventing the neurons from programmed cell death.

The neurotrophin family include four structurally related factors: nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and neurotrophin-4 (NT-4). Another neurotrophic factor, known as novel neurotrophin-1 (NNT-1) is structurally unrelated to NGF, BDNF, NT-3, and NT-4.

About 80% of neurons in the nervous system undergo cell death during normal vertebral development. Neurotrophins support neuronal survival up to the time of naturally-occurring cell death and then become ineffective. This mechanism involves a switch in the type of neurotrophin receptors expressed by the neuron. Other neurotrophins have effects on neuronal progenitor cells and induce their differentiation. Other Neurotrophins affect electrical synapse activity which increases expression of neurotrophin genes.

There are two classes of receptors: Tyrosine kinases and p75. Tyrosine kinases include TrkA, TrkB, and TrkC, and bind with high affinity to specific neurotrophins. P75 is a low affinity neurotrophin receptor, to which all neurotrophins bind.