Reorganization of the cytoskeleton of neuronal growth cones in response to environmental cues underlies the process of axonal guidance. Most previous studies addressing cytoskeletal changes during growth cone pathfinding have focused on the dynamics of a single cytoskeletal component. We report here an investigation of homophilic growth cone-target interactions between Aplysia bag cell neurons using digitally enhanced video microscopy, which addresses dynamic interactions between actin filaments and microtubules. After physical contact of a growth cone with a physiological target, mechanical coupling occurred after a delay; and then the growth cone exerted forces on and displaced the target object. Subsequent to coupling, F-actin accumulation was observed at the target contact zone, followed by preferential microtubule extension to the same site. After successful target interactions, growth cones typically moved off highly adhesive poly-L-lysine substrates into native target cell surfaces. These events were associated with modulation of both the direction and rate of neurite outgrowth: growth cone migration was typically reoriented to a trajectory along the target interaction axis and rates of advance increased by about one order of magnitude. Directed microtubule movements toward the contact site appeared to be F-actin dependent as target site-specific microtubule extension and bundling could be reversibly randomized by micromolar levels of cytochalasin B in a characteristic manner. Our results suggest that target contacts can induce focal F-actin assembly and reorganization which, in turn, guides target site-directed microtubule redistribution.

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