We report in this article that the retraction of PC 12 neurites, unlike that of other cultured neurons, is due to tension within the neurite. Retraction is rapid and independent of metabolic energy. Transection of one arm of a branched neurite immediately causes the remaining arm to take up a new equilibrium position between attachment points. Similarly, detachment of one growth cone of a cell causes the cell body to move to a new equilibrium position between the remaining neurites. These observations provide direct evidence for the suspension of the cell soma among a network of tensioned neurites. We used retraction as an assay for neurite tension to examine the role of actin filaments and microtubules in neurite support and elongation. Our data suggest that microtubules (MTs) within PC 12 neurites are under compression, supporting tension within the actin network. Treatment of cells with drugs that disrupt actin networks, cytochalasin D or erythro-9-[3-(2-hydroxynonyl)]adenosine eliminates retraction regardless of the absence of MTs, lack of adhesion to the substratum, or integrity of the neurite. Conversely, stimulation of actin polymerization by injection of phalloidin causes retraction of neurites. Treatments that depolymerize MTs, nocodazole or cold, cause retraction of neurites, which suggests that microtubules support this tension, i.e., are under compression. Stabilization of MTs with taxol stabilizes neurites to retraction and under appropriate circumstances can drive neurite extension. Taxol-stimulated neurite extension is augmented by combined treatment with anti-actin drugs. This is consistent with the actin network's normally exerting a force opposite that of MT assembly. Cytochalasin and erythro-9-[3-(2-hydroxynonyl)] adenosine were found to increase slightly the dose of nocodazole required for MT depolymerization. This is consistent with the postulated balance of forces and also suggests that alteration of the compression borne by the microtubules could serve as a local regulator for MT polymerization during neurite outgrowth.

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