The molecular mechanisms by which extracellular guidance cues regulate axonal morphology are not fully understood. Recent findings suggest that increased activity of the protein kinase Akt promotes dendritic branching and elongation in hippocampal neurons. We tested whether expression of constitutively active Akt (CA-Akt) in primary sensory neurons would promote axonal branching and whether targeting CA-Akt to lipid rafts, common sites of Akt function, would differentially regulate axonal morphology. Biolistic transduction of sensory neurons induced a rapid expression of CA-Akt, resulting in increased axonal branching, cell hypertrophy, and growth cone expansion. Additionally, we found that targeting of CA-Akt to lipid rafts significantly potentiated growth cone expansion compared with expression of CA-Akt throughout the neuron. Because lipid rafts are concentrated within the growth cone, this finding suggests that signaling of expansion is likely regulated locally. We found that CA-Akt-mediated growth cone expansion, but not axonal branching, was attenuated by coexpression of dominant-negative Rac1. In contrast, blockade of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) prevented axonal branching and hypertrophy in response to CA-Akt, but not growth cone expansion. These data indicate that Akt activity can regulate growth cone expansion via localized Rac1 signaling and regulate axonal branching and soma size via activation of mTOR.
(c) 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.