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J Neurosci. 1998 Jul 15;18(14):5403-14.

Localized sources of neurotrophins initiate axon collateral sprouting.

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University of Minnesota, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroanatomy, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


The sprouting of axon collateral branches is important in the establishment and refinement of neuronal connections during both development and regeneration. Collateral branches are initiated by the appearance of localized filopodial activity along quiescent axonal shafts. We report here that sensory neuron axonal shafts rapidly sprout filopodia at sites of contact with nerve growth factor-coated polystyrene beads. Some sprouts can extend up to at least 60 micro(m) through multiple bead contacts. Axonal filopodial sprouts often contained microtubules and exhibited a debundling of axonal microtubules at the site of bead-axon contact. Cytochalasin treatment abolished the filopodial sprouting, but not the accumulation of actin filaments at sites of bead-axon contact. The axonal sprouting response is mediated by the trkA receptor and likely acts through a phosphoinositide-3 kinase-dependent pathway, in a manner independent of intracellular Ca2+ fluctuations. These findings implicate neurotrophins as local cues that directly stimulate the formation of collateral axon branches.

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