Background: Brain and spinal cord white matter can support extensive axonal growth. This growth is generally constrained to an orientation that is parallel to the longitudinal axis of the fiber tract. This constraint is presumably due to permissive and non-permissive substrates that are interleaved with each other and oriented in parallel within the tract.
Results: Embryonic chick sympathetic neurons were cultured on cryostat sections of rat brain and the orientation of neurite growth on white matter was assessed. To determine if haptotaxis is sufficient to guide parallel neurite growth, neurons were cultured under conditions designed to interfere with interactions between growing neurites and factors that act as biochemical contact guidance cues but not interactions with haptotactic cues. Under these conditions, neurites extending on white matter were not exclusively oriented in parallel to the fiber tract, suggesting that biochemical cues are involved. To assess the role of myelin in guiding parallel neurite growth, neurons were cultured on myelin-deficient corpus callosum. These neurons also extended neurites that were not constrained to a parallel orientation. Moreover, preincubation with NGF and treatment with cAMP analogs, manipulations that attenuate overall myelin-mediated inhibition of neurite growth, also led to a reduced parallel orientation of neurite growth.
Conclusions: The present studies suggest that some of the relevant factors that constrain axonal growth on white matter are not haptotactic in nature and appear to be partly mediated by factors that are associated with myelin and may involve myelin-associated "inhibitors".