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Development. 2007 Jun;134(11):2137-46.

Ena/VASP function in retinal axons is required for terminal arborization but not pathway navigation.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DY, UK.


The Enabled/vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein (Ena/VASP) family of proteins is required for filopodia formation in growth cones and plays a crucial role in guidance cue-induced remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton. In vivo studies with pharmacological inhibitors of actin polymerization have previously provided evidence for the view that filopodia are needed for growth cone navigation in the developing visual pathway. Here we have re-examined this issue using an alternative strategy to generate growth cones without filopodia in vivo by artificially targeting Xena/XVASP (Xenopus homologs of Ena/VASP) proteins to mitochondria in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). We used the specific binding of the EVH1 domain of the Ena/VASP family of proteins with the ligand motif FP4 to sequester the protein at the mitochondria surface. RGCs with reduced function of Xena/XVASP proteins extended fewer axons out of the eye and possessed dynamic lamellipodial growth cones missing filopodia that advanced slowly in the optic tract. Surprisingly, despite lacking filopodia, the axons navigated along the optic pathway without obvious guidance errors, indicating that the Xena/XVASP family of proteins and filopodial protrusions are non-essential for pathfinding in retinal axons. However, depletion of Xena/XVASP proteins severely impaired the ability of growth cones to form branches within the optic tectum, suggesting that this protein family, and probably filopodia, plays a key role in establishing terminal arborizations.

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