The growth-associated protein GAP-43 is a major protein kinase C substrate of growth cones and developing nerve terminals. In the growth cone, it accumulates near the plasma membrane, where it associates with the cortical cytoskeleton and membranes. The role of GAP-43 in neurite outgrowth is not yet clear, but recent findings suggest that it may be a crucial competence factor in this process. To define the role of GAP-43 in growth cone activity, we have analyzed neurite outgrowth and growth cone activity in primary sensory neurons depleted of GAP-43 by a specific antisense oligonucleotide procedure. Under optimal culture conditions, but in the absence of GAP-43, growth cones adhered poorly, displayed highly dynamic but unstable lamellar extensions, and were strikingly devoid of local f-actin concentrations. Upon stimulation, they failed to produce NGF-induced spreading or insulin-like growth factor-1-induced branching, whereas growth factor-induced phosphotyrosine immunoreactivity and acceleration of neurite elongation were not impaired. Unlike their GAP-43-expressing counterparts, they readily retracted when exposed to inhibitory central nervous system myelin-derived liposomes. Frequency and extent of induced retraction were attenuated by NGF. Our results indicate that GAP-43 can promote f-actin accumulation, evoked morphogenic activity, and resistance to retraction of the growth cone, suggesting that it may promote regulated neurite outgrowth during development and regeneration.

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