Neuronal growth cones are exquisite sensory-motor machines capable of transducing features contacted in their local extracellular environment into guided process extension during development. Extensive research has shown that chemical ligands activate cell surface receptors on growth cones leading to intracellular signals that direct cytoskeletal changes. However, the environment also provides mechanical support for growth cone adhesion and traction forces that stabilize leading edge protrusions. Interestingly, recent work suggests that both the mechanical properties of the environment and mechanical forces generated within growth cones influence axon guidance. In this review we discuss novel molecular mechanisms involved in growth cone force production and detection, and speculate how these processes may be necessary for the development of proper neuronal morphogenesis.
Keywords: TRP channels; actin retrograde flow; axon guidance; durotaxis; mechanotransduction; neuron; substrate rigidity.