We seek to understand how the nerve growth cone acts as a sensory motile machine to respond to chemical cues in the developing embryo. This review focuses on filopodial protrusion and F-actin-based motility because there is good evidence that these processes are required for axon guidance. The clutch hypothesis, which states that filopodial protrusion occurs by actin assembly when an actin filament is fixed with respect to the substrate (i.e., a clutch is engaged), was postulated by Mitchison and Kirscher to link protrusion to actin dynamics. Protrusion would require functional modules for movement of material into filopodia, clutching the F-actin, F-actin assembly at the tip, and retrograde flow. In this review, recent studies of actin-associated proteins involved in filopodial protrusion will be summarized, and their roles will be assessed in the context of the clutch hypothesis. The large number of proteins involved in filopodial motility and their complex interactions make it difficult to understand how these proteins act in protrusion. Recently, we have used microscale chromophore-assisted laser inactivation (micro-CALI) for the focal and acute inactivation of specific actin-associated proteins during filopodial protrusion to address their in situ roles. Our findings suggest that myosin V functions in moving membranes or other material forward in extending filopodia, that talin acts in the clutch module, and that zyxin acts in actin assembly at the tip during filopodial protrusion, perhaps by recruiting Ena/VASP family members to promote actin elongation at this site.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.