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Concept: Growth cone


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


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


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


ΒACE1 is the major drug target for Alzheimer’s disease, but we know surprisingly little about its normal function in the CNS. Here, we show that this protease is critically involved in semaphorin 3A (Sema3A)-mediated axonal guidance processes in thalamic and hippocampal neurons. An active membrane-bound proteolytic CHL1 fragment is generated by BACE1 upon Sema3A binding. This fragment relays the Sema3A signal via ezrin-radixin-moesin (ERM) proteins to the neuronal cytoskeleton. APH1B-γ-secretase-mediated degradation of this fragment stops the Sema3A-induced collapse and sensitizes the growth cone for the next axonal guidance cue. Thus, we reveal a cycle of proteolytic activity underlying growth cone collapse and restoration used by axons to find their correct trajectory in the brain. Our data also suggest that BACE1 and γ-secretase inhibition have physiologically opposite effects in this process, supporting the idea that combination therapy might attenuate some of the side effects associated with these drugs.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Action potential, Human brain, Axon, 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


Filopodia have important sensory and mechanical roles in motile cells. The recruitment of actin regulators, such as ENA/VASP proteins, to sites of protrusion underlies diverse molecular mechanisms of filopodia formation and extension. We developed Filopodyan (filopodia dynamics analysis) in Fiji and R to measure fluorescence in filopodia and at their tips and bases concurrently with their morphological and dynamic properties. Filopodyan supports high-throughput phenotype characterization as well as detailed interactive editing of filopodia reconstructions through an intuitive graphical user interface. Our highly customizable pipeline is widely applicable, capable of detecting filopodia in four different cell types in vitro and in vivo. We use Filopodyan to quantify the recruitment of ENA and VASP preceding filopodia formation in neuronal growth cones, and uncover a molecular heterogeneity whereby different filopodia display markedly different responses to changes in the accumulation of ENA and VASP fluorescence in their tips over time.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, In vivo, In vitro, User interface, Growth cone, Graphical user interface, Filopodia


Genetically encoded, ratiometric biosensors based on fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) are powerful tools to study the spatiotemporal dynamics of cell signaling. However, many biosensors lack sensitivity. We present a biosensor library that contains circularly permutated mutants for both the donor and acceptor fluorophores, which alter the orientation of the dipoles and thus better accommodate structural constraints imposed by different signaling molecules while maintaining FRET efficiency. Our strategy improved the brightness and dynamic range of preexisting RhoA and extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (ERK) biosensors. Using the improved RhoA biosensor, we found micrometer-sized zones of RhoA activity at the tip of F-actin bundles in growth cone filopodia during neurite extension, whereas RhoA was globally activated throughout collapsing growth cones. RhoA was also activated in filopodia and protruding membranes at the leading edge of motile fibroblasts. Using the improved ERK biosensor, we simultaneously measured ERK activation dynamics in multiple cells using low-magnification microscopy and performed in vivo FRET imaging in zebrafish. Thus, we provide a construction toolkit consisting of a vector set, which enables facile generation of sensitive biosensors.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Adenosine triphosphate, Cell membrane, Cell biology, Förster resonance energy transfer, Growth cone, Fluorescence in the life sciences, Filopodia


The growth cone is an essential structure for nerve growth. Although its membrane and cytoskeleton are likely to interact coordinately during nerve growth, the mechanisms are unknown due to their close proximity. Here, we used superresolution microscopy to simultaneously observe vesicles and F-actin in growth cones. We identified a novel vesicular generation mechanism that is independent of clathrin and dependent on endophilin-3- and dynamin-1 and that occurs proximal to the leading edge simultaneously with fascin-1-dependent F-actin bundling. In contrast to conventional clathrin-dependent endocytosis, which occurs distal from the leading edge at the basal surfaces of growth cones, this mechanism was distinctly observed at the apical surface using 3D imaging and was involved in mediating axon growth. Reduced endophilin or fascin inhibited this endocytic mechanism. These results suggest that, at the leading edge, vesicles are coordinately generated and transported with actin bundling during nerve growth.

Concepts: Protein, Cytosol, Cell membrane, Actin, Axon, Cytoskeleton, Endocytosis, Growth cone