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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jul 3;104(27):11251-6. Epub 2007 Jun 25.

Asymmetric redistribution of GABA receptors during GABA gradient sensing by nerve growth cones analyzed by single quantum dot imaging.

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  • 1Laboratoire Kastler Brossel, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Physics Department, Ecole Normale Supérieure, and Université Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris 6, 24, Rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris, France.


During development of the nervous system, the tip of a growing axon, the growth cone (GC), must respond accurately to stimuli that direct its growth. This axonal navigation depends on extracellular concentration gradients of numerous guidance cues, including GABA. GCs can detect even weak directional signals, yet the mechanisms underlying this sensitivity remain unclear. Past studies in other eukaryotic chemotactic systems have pointed to the role of the spatial reorganization of the transduction pathway in their sensitive response. Here we have developed a single-molecule assay to observe individual GABA(A) receptors (GABA(A)Rs) in the plasma membrane of nerve GCs subjected to directional stimuli. We report that in the presence of an external GABA gradient GABA(A)Rs redistribute asymmetrically across the GC toward the gradient source. Single-particle tracking of GABA(A)Rs shows that the redistribution results from transient interactions between the receptors and the microtubules. Moreover, the relocalization is accompanied by an enhancement in the asymmetry of intracellular calcium concentration. Altogether, our results reveal a microtubule-dependent polarized reorganization of chemoreceptors at the cell surface and suggest that this polarization serves as an amplification step in GABA gradient sensing by nerve GCs.

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