To understand the role of microtubules in growth cone turning, we observed fluorescently labeled microtubules in neurons as they encountered a substrate boundary. Neurons growing on a laminin-rich substrate avoided growing onto collagen type IV. Turning growth cones assumed heterogeneous morphologies and behaviors that depended primarily in their extent of adhesion to the substrate. We grouped these behaviors into three categories-sidestepping, motility, and growth-mediated reorientation. In sidestepping and motility-mediated reorientation, the growth cone and parts of the axon were not well attached to the substrate so the acquisition of an adherent lamella caused the entire growth cone to move away from the border and consequently reoriented the axon. In these cases, since the motility of the growth cone dominates its reorientation, the microtubules were passive, and reorientation occurred without significant axon growth. In growth-mediated reorientation, the growth cone and axon were attached to the substrate. In this case, microtubules reoriented within the growth cone to stabilize a lamella. Bundling of the reoriented microtubules was followed by growth cone collapse to form new axon, and further, polarized lamellipodial extension. These observations indicate that when the growth cone remains adherent to the substrate during turning, the reorientation and bundling of microtubules is an important, early step in growth cone turning.

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