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Concept: Axon guidance


Intracellular Ca(2+) signals control the development and regeneration of spinal axons downstream of chemical guidance cues, but little is known about the roles of mechanical cues in axon guidance. Here we show that transient receptor potential canonical 1 (TRPC1) subunits assemble mechanosensitive (MS) channels on Xenopus neuronal growth cones that regulate the extension and direction of axon outgrowth on rigid, but not compliant, substrata. Reducing expression of TRPC1 by antisense morpholinos inhibits the effects of MS channel blockers on axon outgrowth and local Ca(2+) transients. Ca(2+) influx through MS TRPC1 activates the protease calpain, which cleaves the integrin adaptor protein talin to reduce Src-dependent axon outgrowth, likely through altered adhesion turnover. We found that talin accumulates at the tips of dynamic filopodia, which is lost upon cleavage of talin by active calpain. This pathway may also be important in axon guidance decisions since asymmetric inhibition of MS TRPC1 is sufficient to induce growth cone turning. Together our results suggest that Ca(2+) influx through MS TRPC1 on filopodia activates calpain to control growth cone turning during development.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Developmental biology, Action potential, Axon, Axon guidance, Growth cone, Filopodia


Axons must switch responsiveness to guidance cues during development for correct pathfinding. Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) attracts spinal cord commissural axons ventrally toward the floorplate. We show that after crossing the floorplate, commissural axons switch their response to Shh from attraction to repulsion, so that they are repelled anteriorly by a posterior-high/anterior-low Shh gradient along the longitudinal axis. This switch is recapitulated in vitro with dissociated commissural neurons as they age, indicating that the switch is intrinsic and time dependent. 14-3-3 protein inhibition converted Shh-mediated repulsion of aged dissociated neurons to attraction and prevented the correct anterior turn of postcrossing commissural axons in vivo, an effect mediated through PKA. Conversely, overexpression of 14-3-3 proteins was sufficient to drive the switch from Shh-mediated attraction to repulsion both in vitro and in vivo. Therefore, we identify a 14-3-3 protein-dependent mechanism for a cell-intrinsic temporal switch in the polarity of axon turning responses.

Concepts: Proteins, Neuron, Spinal cord, Axon, Axon guidance, Sonic hedgehog, 14-3-3 protein


Dynamic microtubules (MTs) are required for neuronal guidance, where axons extend directionally toward their target tissues. We found that depletion of the MT-binding protein Xenopus CLASP1 (XCLASP1) or treatment with the MT drug taxol reduced axon outgrowth in spinal cord neurons. To quantify the dynamic distribution of MTs in axons, we developed an automated algorithm to detect and track MT plus-ends that have been fluorescently labeled by end-binding protein 3 (EB3). XCLASP1 depletion reduced MT advance rates in neuronal growth cones very similar to treatment with taxol, demonstrating a potential link between MT dynamics in the growth cone and axon extension.Automatic tracking of EB3 comets in different compartments revealed that MTs increasingly slowed as they passed from the axon shaft into the growth cone and filopodia. We used speckle microscopy to demonstrate that MTs experience retrograde flow at the leading edge. Microtubule advance in growth cone and filopodia was strongly reduced in XCLASP1-depleted axons as compared with control axons, but actin retrograde flow remained unchanged. Instead, we found that XCLASP1-depleted growth cones lacked lamellipodial actin organization characteristic of protrusion. Lamellipodial architecture depended on XCLASP1 and its capacity to associate with MTs, highlighting the importance of XCLASP1 in actin-microtubule interactions.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Action potential, Axon, Synapse, Axon guidance, Cytoskeleton, Growth cone


Growth cone filopodia are actin-based mechanosensory structures essential for chemoreception and generation of contractile forces necessary for directional motility. However, little is known about the influence of filopodial actin structures on substrate adhesion and filopodial contractility.Formin-2 (Fmn2) localizes along filopodial actin bundles and its depletion does not affect filopodia initiation or elongation. However, Fmn2 activity is required for filopodial tip adhesion maturation and the ability of filopodia to generate traction forces. Dysregulation of filopodia in Fmn2 depleted neurons leads to compromised growth cone motility. Additionally, in fibroblasts, Fmn2 regulates ventral stress fiber assembly and affects the stability of focal adhesions. In the developing spinal cord, Fmn2 activity is required cell autonomously for the outgrowth and pathfinding of spinal commissural neurons.Our results reveal an unanticipated function for Fmn2 in neural development. Fmn2 regulates structurally diverse bundled actin structures, parallel filopodial bundles in growth cones and anti-parallel stress fibers in fibroblasts, in turn modulating the stability of substrate adhesions. We propose Fmn2 as a mediator of actin bundle integrity enabling efficient force transmission to the adhesion sites.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Axon, Axon guidance, Force, Growth cone, Filopodia, Actin based structures


The growth cone is a unique structure capable of guiding axons to their proper destinations. Within the growth cone, extracellular guidance cues are interpreted and then transduced into physical changes in the actin filament (F-actin) and microtubule cytoskeletons, providing direction and movement. While both cytoskeletal networks individually possess important growth cone-specific functions, recent data over the past several years point towards a more cooperative role between the two systems. Facilitating this interaction between F-actin and microtubules, microtubule plus-end tracking proteins (+TIPs) have been shown to link the two cytoskeletons together. Evidence suggests that many +TIPs can couple microtubules to F-actin dynamics, supporting both microtubule advance and retraction in the growth cone periphery. In addition, growing in vitro and in vivo data support a secondary role for +TIPs in which they may participate as F-actin nucleators, thus directly influencing F-actin dynamics and organization. This review focuses on how +TIPs may link F-actin and microtubules together in the growth cone, and how these interactions may influence axon guidance. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Protein, Eukaryote, Actin, Myosin, Axon, Axon guidance, Cytoskeleton, MreB


During axon guidance, growth cones navigate toward attractive cues by inserting new membrane on the cue side. This process depends on Ca(2+) release from endoplasmic reticulum (ER) Ca(2+) channels, but the Ca(2+) sensor and effector governing this asymmetric vesicle export remain unknown. We identified a protein complex that controls asymmetric ER Ca(2+)-dependent membrane vesicle export. The Ca(2+)-dependent motor protein myosin Va (MyoVa) tethers membrane vesicles to the ER via a common binding site on the two major ER Ca(2+) channels, inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate and ryanodine receptors. In response to attractive cues, micromolar Ca(2+) from ER channels triggers MyoVa-channel dissociation and the movement of freed vesicles to the cue side, enabling growth cone turning. MyoVa-Ca(2+) channel interactions are required for proper long-range axon growth in developing spinal cord in vivo. These findings reveal a peri-ER membrane export pathway for Ca(2+)-dependent attraction in axon guidance.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Endoplasmic reticulum, Myosin, Axon, Axon guidance, Membrane biology, Growth cone


During nervous system development, gradients of Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) and Netrin-1 attract growth cones of commissural axons toward the floor plate of the embryonic spinal cord. Mice defective for either Shh or Netrin-1 signaling have commissural axon guidance defects, suggesting that both Shh and Netrin-1 are required for correct axon guidance. However, how Shh and Netrin-1 collaborate to guide axons is not known. We first quantified the steepness of the Shh gradient in the spinal cord and found that it is mostly very shallow. We then developed an in vitro microfluidic guidance assay to simulate these shallow gradients. We found that axons of dissociated commissural neurons respond to steep but not shallow gradients of Shh or Netrin-1. However, when we presented axons with combined Shh and Netrin-1 gradients, they had heightened sensitivity to the guidance cues, turning in response to shallower gradients that were unable to guide axons when only one cue was present. Furthermore, these shallow gradients polarized growth cone Src-family kinase (SFK) activity only when Shh and Netrin-1 were combined, indicating that SFKs can integrate the two guidance cues. Together, our results indicate that Shh and Netrin-1 synergize to enable growth cones to sense shallow gradients in regions of the spinal cord where the steepness of a single guidance cue is insufficient to guide axons, and we identify a novel type of synergy that occurs when the steepness (and not the concentration) of a guidance cue is limiting.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Gradient, Axon, Synapse, Axon guidance, Sonic hedgehog, Growth cone


During brain wiring, cue-induced axon behaviors such as directional steering and branching are aided by localized mRNA translation. Different guidance cues elicit translation of subsets of mRNAs that differentially regulate the cytoskeleton, yet little is understood about how specific mRNAs are selected for translation. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are critical translational regulators that act through a sequence-specific mechanism. Here, we investigate the local role of miRNAs in mRNA-specific translation during pathfinding of Xenopus laevis retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons. Among a rich repertoire of axonal miRNAs, miR-182 is identified as the most abundant. Loss of miR-182 causes RGC axon targeting defects in vivo and impairs Slit2-induced growth cone (GC) repulsion. We find that miR-182 targets cofilin-1 mRNA, silencing its translation, and Slit2 rapidly relieves the repression without causing miR-182 degradation. Our data support a model whereby miR-182 reversibly gates the selection of transcripts for fast translation depending on the extrinsic cue.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Messenger RNA, Retina, Axon, Axon guidance, Retinal ganglion cell, Growth cone


Axon pathfinding is orchestrated by numerous guidance cues, including Slits and their Robo receptors, but it remains unclear how information from multiple cues is integrated or filtered. Robo3, a Robo family member, allows commissural axons to reach and cross the spinal cord midline by antagonizing Robo1/2-mediated repulsion from midline-expressed Slits and potentiating deleted in colorectal cancer (DCC)-mediated midline attraction to Netrin-1, but without binding either Slits or Netrins. We identified a secreted Robo3 ligand, neural epidermal growth factor-like-like 2 (NELL2), which repels mouse commissural axons through Robo3 and helps steer them to the midline. These findings identify NELL2 as an axon guidance cue and establish Robo3 as a multifunctional regulator of pathfinding that simultaneously mediates NELL2 repulsion, inhibits Slit repulsion, and facilitates Netrin attraction to achieve a common guidance purpose.

Concepts: Neuron, Axon, Axon guidance, Developmental neuroscience, Netrin


Netrin1 has been proposed to act from the floor plate (FP) as a long-range diffusible chemoattractant for commissural axons in the embryonic spinal cord. However, netrin1 mRNA and protein are also present in neural progenitors within the ventricular zone (VZ), raising the question of which source of netrin1 promotes ventrally directed axon growth. Here, we use genetic approaches in mice to selectively remove netrin from different regions of the spinal cord. Our analyses show that the FP is not the source of netrin1 directing axons to the ventral midline, while local VZ-supplied netrin1 is required for this step. Furthermore, rather than being present in a gradient, netrin1 protein accumulates on the pial surface adjacent to the path of commissural axon extension. Thus, netrin1 does not act as a long-range secreted chemoattractant for commissural spinal axons but instead promotes ventrally directed axon outgrowth by haptotaxis, i.e., directed growth along an adhesive surface.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Cell biology, Axon, Axon guidance