In vivo imaging of growth cone and filopodial dynamics: Evidence for contact-mediated retraction of filopodia leading to the tiling of sibling processes

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In the leech embryo, the peripheral comb cell (CC) sends out many nonoverlapping, growth cone-tipped processes that grow in parallel and serve as a scaffold for the migrating myocytes of the later-developing oblique muscle layer. To explore how the parallel arrangement is generated we first examined the arrangement of CC cytoskeletal components by expressing a tubulin-binding protein and actin, both tagged with fluorescent reporters. This revealed that the growth cones were compartmentalized into F-actin-rich filopodia and a microtubule-rich central region. Time-lapse analysis with a 2-photon laser scanning microscope revealed that the growth cones of the CC are highly dynamic, undergoing rapid filopodial extension and retraction. Measurements of filopodial lifespan and length revealed that most filopodia at the leading edge of the growth cone achieved significantly longer lifespans and length than lateral filopodia. Furthermore, for the short-lived lateral filopodia, apparent interaction with a neighboring process was found to be a significant predictor of their nearly immediate (within 2–4 minutes) retraction. When contact was experimentally prevented by ablating individual CCs, the filopodia from the growth cones of adjacent segmental neighbors were found to be significantly lengthened in the direction of the removed homolog. Treatment with low doses of cytochalasin D to disrupt F-actin assembly led to filopodial retraction and growth cone collapse and resulted in the bifurcation of many CC processes, numerous crossover errors, and the loss of parallelism. These findings indicate the existence of a contact-mediated repulsive interaction between processes of the CC. J. Comp. Neurol. 500:850–862, 2007. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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