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Biophys J. 1995 Mar;68(3):988-96.

Mechanical properties of neuronal growth cone membranes studied by tether formation with laser optical tweezers.

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Department of Cell Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Many cell phenomena involve major morphological changes, particularly in mitosis and the process of cell migration. For cells or neuronal growth cones to migrate, they must extend the leading edge of the plasma membrane as a lamellipodium or filopodium. During extension of filopodia, membrane must move across the surface creating shear and flow. Intracellular biochemical processes driving extension must work against the membrane mechanical properties, but the forces required to extend growth cones have not been measured. In this paper, laser optical tweezers and a nanometer-level analysis system were used to measure the neuronal growth cone membrane mechanical properties through the extension of filopodia-like tethers with IgG-coated beads. Although the probability of a bead attaching to the membrane was constant irrespective of treatment; the probability of forming a tether with a constant force increased dramatically with cytochalasin B or D and dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO). These are treatments that alter the organization of the actin cytoskeleton. The force required to hold a tether at zero velocity (F0) was greater than forces generated by single molecular motors, kinesin and myosin; and F0 decreased with cytochalasin B or D and DMSO in correlation with the changes in the probability of tether formation. The force of the tether on the bead increased linearly with the velocity of tether elongation. From the dependency of tether force on velocity of tether formation, we calculated a parameter related to membrane viscosity, which decreased with cytochalasin B or D, ATP depletion, nocodazole, and DMSO. These results indicate that the actin cytoskeleton affects the membrane mechanical properties, including the force required for membrane extension and the viscoelastic behavior.

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