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J Neurochem. 2002 Nov;83(3):490-503.

Signaling mechanisms that regulate actin-based motility processes in the nervous system.

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Department of Neurology, University of Michigan, 200 Zina Pitcher Place, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


Actin-based motility is critical for nervous system development. Both the migration of neurons and the extension of neurites require organized actin polymerization to push the cell membrane forward. Numerous extracellular stimulants of motility and axon guidance cues regulate actin-based motility through the rho GTPases (rho, rac, and cdc42). The rho GTPases reorganize the actin cytoskeleton, leading to stress fiber, filopodium, or lamellipodium formation. The activity of the rho GTPases is regulated by a variety of proteins that either stimulate GTP uptake (activation) or hydrolysis (inactivation). These proteins potentially link extracellular signals to the activation state of rho GTPases. Effectors downstream of the rho GTPases that directly influence actin polymerization have been identified and are involved in neurite development. The Arp2/3 complex nucleates the formation of new actin branches that extend the membrane forward. Ena/VASP proteins can cause the formation of longer actin filaments, characteristic of growth cone actin morphology, by preventing the capping of barbed ends. Actin-depolymerizing factor (ADF)/cofilin depolymerizes and severs actin branches in older parts of the actin meshwork, freeing monomers to be re-incorporated into actively growing filaments. The signaling mechanisms by which extracellular cues that guide axons to their targets lead to direct effects on actin filament dynamics are becoming better understood.

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