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Methods Enzymol. 2006;406:565-78.

In vitro assay of primary astrocyte migration as a tool to study Rho GTPase function in cell polarization.

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Morphogeneses et Signalisation Cellulaire, Institut Curie, Paris, France.


Rho GTPases are key players in cell migration. The contribution of Rho, Rac, and Cdc42 to the regulation of the actin and microtubule cytoskeletons is essential for membrane protrusion and cell retraction (Etienne-Manneville and Hall, 2002). The polarization of these protrusive and retracting activities in a migrating cell is also under the control of Rho GTPases, in particular Cdc42 (Nobes and Hall, 1999). In vitro study of cell migration has shown that Cdc42 activity is required for polarized cell migration in several cell types, including fibroblasts, neutrophils, macrophages, and astrocytes (Allen et al., 1998; Etienne-Manneville, 2004; Etienne-Manneville and Hall, 2001; Palazzo et al., 2001; Srinivasan et al., 2003). Using scratch-induced migration assay, we have previously used primary astrocytes as a tool to study the molecular mechanisms controlling cell polarization at the onset of migration (Etienne-Manneville and Hall, 2001, 2003). On scratching of the monolayer, astrocytes polarize perpendicularly to the scratch to migrate and close the wound. Astrocyte polarization is characterized by the formation of a protrusion in the direction of migration, the elongation of the microtubules that fill the protrusion, and the reorientation of the centrosome, which serves as a microtubule-organizing center toward the direction of migration. This in vitro migration assay allows us to simultaneously investigate the mechanisms controlling cell migration, cell protrusion, and cell polarization. Primary astrocytes, although more constraining, provide a more physiological model than immortalized cell lines. Moreover, astrocyte culture can be obtained in a large number and, therefore, also allows biochemical analysis. Here I describe the procedure by which we can obtain and purify primary rat astrocytes and the different assays we have previously used to analyze the role of Rho GTPases and their downstream targets in cell migration and polarization.

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