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The cell biological processes underlying axon growth and guidance are still not well understood. An outstanding question is how a new segment of the axon shaft is formed in the wake of neuronal growth cone advance. For this to occur, the highly dynamic, splayed-out microtubule (MT) arrays characteristic of the growth cone must be consolidated (bundled together) to form the core of the axon shaft. MT-associated proteins stabilize bundled MTs, but how individual MTs are brought together for initial bundling is unknown. Here, we show that laterally moving actin arcs, which are myosin II-driven contractile structures, interact with growing MTs and transport them from the sides of the growth cone into the central domain. Upon Myosin II inhibition, the movement of actin filaments and MTs immediately stopped and MTs unbundled. Thus, Myosin II-dependent compressive force is necessary for normal MT bundling in the growth cone neck.
Filopodial actin bundles guide microtubule assembly in the growth cone peripheral (P) domain and retrograde actin-network flow simultaneously transports microtubules rearward. Therefore, microtubule-end position is determined by the sum of microtubule assembly and retrograde transport rates. However, how filopodia actually affect microtubule assembly dynamics is unknown. To address this issue we quantitatively assessed microtubule and actin dynamics before and after selective removal of filopodia. Filopodium removal had surprisingly little effect on retrograde actin-flow rates or underlying network structures, but resulted in an approximate doubling of peripheral microtubule density and deeper penetration of microtubules into the P domain. The latter stemmed from less efficient coupling of microtubules to remaining actin networks and not from a change in microtubule polymer dynamics. Loss of filopodia also resulted in increased lateral microtubule movements and a more randomized microtubule distribution in the P domain. In summary, filopodia do not seem to be formally required for microtubule advance; however, their presence ensures radial distribution of microtubules in the P domain and facilitates microtubule transport by retrograde flow. The resulting dynamic steady state has interesting implications for rapid microtubule-positioning responses in the P domain.
Retrograde actin flow works in concert with cell adhesion to generate traction forces that are involved in axon guidance in neuronal growth cones. Myosins have been implicated in retrograde flow, but identification of the specific myosin subtype(s) involved has been controversial. Using fluorescent speckle microscopy (FSM) to assess actin dynamics, we report that inhibition of myosin II alone decreases retrograde flow by 51% and the remaining flow can be almost fully accounted for by the 'push' of plus-end actin assembly at the leading edge of the growth cone. Interestingly, actin bundles that are associated with filopodium roots elongated by approximately 83% after inhibition of myosin II. This unexpected result was due to decreased rates of actin-bundle severing near their proximal (minus or pointed) ends which are located in the transition zone of the growth cone. Our study reveals a mechanism for the regulation of actin-bundle length by myosin II that is dependent on actin-bundle severing, and demonstrate that retrograde flow is a steady state that depends on both myosin II contractility and actin-network treadmilling.
Rho family GTPases have been implicated in neuronal growth cone guidance; however, the underlying cytoskeletal mechanisms are unclear. We have used multimode fluorescent speckle microscopy (FSM) to directly address this problem. We report that actin arcs that form in the transition zone are incorporated into central actin bundles in the C domain. These actin structures are Rho/Rho Kinase (ROCK) effectors. Specifically, LPA mediates growth cone retraction by ROCK-dependent increases in actin arc and central actin bundle contractility and stability. In addition, these treatments had marked effects on MT organization as a consequence of strong MT-actin arc interactions. In contrast, LPA or constitutively active Rho had no effect on P domain retrograde actin flow or filopodium bundle number. This study reveals a novel mechanism for domain-specific spatial control of actin-based motility in the growth cone with implications for understanding chemorepellant growth cone responses and nerve regeneration.