Background: While many molecules involved in axon guidance have been identified, the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which these molecules regulate growth cone morphology during axon outgrowth remain to be elucidated. The actin cytoskeleton of the growth cone underlies the formation of lamellipodia and filopodia that control growth cone outgrowth and guidance. The role of the Arp2/3 complex in growth cone filopodia formation has been controversial, and other mechanisms of growth cone filopodia formation remain to be described.
Results: Here we show that mutations in genes encoding the Arp2/3 complex (arx genes) caused defects in axon guidance. Analysis of developing growth cones in vivo showed that arx mutants displayed defects in filopodia and reduced growth cone size. Time-lapse analysis of growth cones in living animals indicated that arx mutants affected the rate of growth cone filopodia formation but not filopodia stability or length. Two other actin modulatory proteins, UNC-115/abLIM and UNC-34/Enabled, that had been shown previously to affect axon guidance had overlapping roles with Arp2/3 in axon guidance and also affected the rate of filopodia initiation but not stability or length.
Conclusion: Our results indicate that the Arp2/3 complex is required cell-autonomously for axon guidance and growth cone filopodia initiation. Furthermore, they show that two other actin-binding proteins, UNC-115/abLIM and UNC-34/Enabled, also control growth cone filopodia formation, possibly in parallel to Arp2/3. These studies indicate that, in vivo, multiple actin modulatory pathways including the Arp2/3 complex contribute to growth cone filopodia formation during growth cone outgrowth.