The growth cone is responsible for axonal growth, where membrane expansion is most likely to occur. Several recent reports have suggested that presynaptic proteins are involved in this process; however, the molecular mechanism details are unclear. We suggest that by cleaving a presynaptic protein syntaxin, which is essential in targeting synaptic vesicles as a target SNAP receptor (t-SNARE), neurotoxin C1 of Clostridium botulinum causes growth cone collapse and inhibits axonal growth. Video-enhanced microscopic studies showed (a) that neurotoxin C1 selectively blocked the activity of the central domain (the vesicle-rich region) at the initial stage, but not the lamellipodia in the growth cone; and (b) that large vacuole formation occurred probably through the fusion of smaller vesicles from the central domain to the most distal segments of the neurite. The total surface area of the accumulated vacuoles could explain the membrane expansion of normal neurite growth. The gradual disappearance of the surface labeling by FITC-WGA on the normal growth cone, suggesting membrane addition, was inhibited by neurotoxin C1. The experiments using the peptides derived from syntaxin, essential for interaction with VAMP or alpha-SNAP, supported the results using neurotoxin C1. Our results demonstrate that syntaxin is involved in axonal growth and indicate that syntaxin may participate directly in the membrane expansion that occurs in the central domain of the growth cone, probably through association with VAMP and SNAPs, in a SNARE-like way.

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