The growth of an axon toward its target results from the reorganization of the cytoskeleton in response to environmental guidance cues. Recently developed imaging technology makes it possible to address the effect of such cues on the neural cytoskeleton directly. Although high resolution studies can be carried out on neurons in vitro, these circumstances do not recreate the complexity of the natural environment. We report here on the arrangement and dynamics of microtubules in live neurons pathfinding in response to natural guidance cues in situ using the embryonic grasshopper limb fillet preparation. A rich microtubule network was present within the body of the growth cone and normally extended into the distal growth cone margin. Complex microtubule loops often formed transiently within the growth cone. Branches both with and without microtubules were regularly observed. Microtubules did not extend into filopodia. During growth cone steering events in response to identified guidance cues, microtubule behaviour could be monitored. In turns towards guidepost cells, microtubules selectively invaded branches derived from filopodia that had contacted the guidepost cell. At limb segment boundaries, microtubules displayed a variety of behaviors, including selective branch invasion, and also invasion of multiple branches followed by selective retention in branches oriented in the correct direction. Microtubule invasion of multiple branches also was seen in growth cones migrating on intrasegmental epithelium. Both selective invasion and selective retention generate asymmetrical microtubule arrangements within the growth cone, and may play a key role in growth cone steering events.

This content is only available as a PDF.