The growth cone contains dynamic and relatively stable microtubule populations, whose function in motility and axonal growth is uncharacterized. We have used vinblastine at low doses to inhibit microtubule dynamics without appreciable depolymerization to probe the role of these dynamics in growth cone behavior. At doses of vinblastine that interfere only with dynamics, the forward and persistent movement of the growth cone is inhibited and the growth cone wanders without appreciable forward translocation; it quickly resumes forward growth after the vinblastine is washed out. Direct visualization of fluorescently tagged microtubules in these neurons shows that in the absence of dynamic microtubules, the remaining mass of polymer does not invade the peripheral lamella and does not undergo the usual cycle of bundling and splaying and the growth cone stops forward movement. These experiments argue for a role for dynamic microtubules in allowing microtubule rearrangements in the growth cone. These rearrangements seem to be necessary for microtubule bundling, the subsequent coalescence of the cortex around the bundle to form new axon, and forward translocation of the growth cone.

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