Growth cone steering by a physiological electric field requires dynamic microtubules, microfilaments and Rac-mediated filopodial asymmetry

Ann Marie Rajnicek, L. E. Foubister, Colin Darnley McCaig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Electric fields (EFs) resembling those in the developing and regenerating nervous systems steer growth cones towards the cathode. Requirements for actin microfilaments, microtubules and their interactions during EF growth cone steering have been presumed, but remain unproven. Here, we demonstrate essential roles for dynamic microfilaments and microtubules in cathode-directed migration. Cathodal turning of growth cones on cultured Xenopus embryonic spinal neurons was attenuated significantly by nanomolar concentrations of the microfilament inhibitor latrunculin, the microtubule-stabilising drug taxol, or the microtubule-destabilising drugs vinblastine or nocodazole. Dynamically, the cathodal bias of filopodia preceded cathodal turning of the growth cone, suggesting an instructive role in EF-induced steering. Lamellipodial asymmetry accompanied turning. Filopodia and lamellipodia are regulated by the GTPases Cdc42 and Rac, respectively, and, as shown in the companion paper in this issue, peptides that selectively prevented effector binding to the CRIB domains of Cdc42 or Rac abolished cathodal growth cone turning during 3 hours of EF exposure. Here, the Rac peptide suppressed lamellipodium formation, increased the number of filopodia, abolished cathodal filopodial orientation, and prevented cathodal steering. The Cdc42 peptide suppressed filopodium formation, increased lamellipodial area and prevented cathodal steering. The cathodal bias of lamellipodia was independent of Cdc42 CRIB activity and was not sufficient for cathodal steering in the absence of filopodia, but the cathodal bias of filopodia through Rac CRIB activity was necessary for cathodal turning. Understanding the mechanism for cathodal growth cone guidance will enhance the emerging clinical effort to stimulate human spinal cord regeneration through EF application.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1736-1745
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2006


  • filopodia
  • lamellipodia
  • growth cone
  • electric field
  • Rho GTPases
  • CDC42


Dive into the research topics of 'Growth cone steering by a physiological electric field requires dynamic microtubules, microfilaments and Rac-mediated filopodial asymmetry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this