The motile behaviors of growth cones at the ends of elongating axons determine pathways of axonal connections in developing nervous systems. Growth cones express receptors for molecular guidance cues in the local environment, and receptor-guidance cue binding initiates cytoplasmic signaling that regulates the cytoskeleton to control growth cone advance, turning, and branching behaviors. The dynamic actin filaments of growth cones are frequently targets of this regulatory signaling. Rho GTPases are key mediators of signaling by guidance cues, although much remains to be learned about how growth cone responses are orchestrated by Rho GTPase signaling to change the dynamics of polymerization, transport, and disassembly of actin filaments. Binding of neurotrophins to Trk and p75 receptors on growth cones triggers changes in actin filament dynamics to regulate several aspects of growth cone behaviors. Activation of Trk receptors mediates local accumulation of actin filaments, while neurotrophin binding to p75 triggers local decrease in RhoA signaling that promotes lengthening of filopodia. Semaphorin IIIA and ephrin-A2 are guidance cues that trigger avoidance or repulsion of certain growth cones, and in vitro responses to these proteins include growth cone collapse. Dynamic changes in the activities of Rho GTPases appear to mediate responses to these cues, although it remains unclear what the changes are in actin filament distribution and dynamic reorganization that result in growth cone collapse. Growth cones in vivo simultaneously encounter positive and negative guidance cues, and thus, growth cone behaviors during axonal pathfinding reflect the complex integration of multiple signaling activities.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol 58: 92-102, 2004