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J Neurosci. 2001 Dec 15;21(24):9757-69.

Axon branching requires interactions between dynamic microtubules and actin filaments.

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Neuroscience Training Program and Department of Anatomy, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Cortical neurons innervate many of their targets by collateral axon branching, which requires local reorganization of the cytoskeleton. We coinjected cortical neurons with fluorescently labeled tubulin and phalloidin and used fluorescence time-lapse imaging to analyze interactions between microtubules and actin filaments (F-actin) in cortical growth cones and axons undergoing branching. In growth cones and at axon branch points, splaying of looped or bundled microtubules is accompanied by focal accumulation of F-actin. Dynamic microtubules colocalize with F-actin in transition regions of growth cones and at axon branch points. In contrast, F-actin is excluded from the central region of the growth cone and the axon shaft, which contains stable microtubules. Interactions between dynamic microtubules and dynamic actin filaments involve their coordinated polymerization and depolymerization. Application of drugs that attenuate either microtubule or F-actin dynamics also inhibits polymerization of the other cytoskeletal element. Importantly, inhibition of microtubule or F-actin dynamics prevents axon branching but not axon elongation. However, these treatments do cause undirected axon outgrowth. These results suggest that interactions between dynamic microtubules and actin filaments are required for axon branching and directed axon outgrowth.

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