Neurite outgrowth is driven by actin polymerization even in the presence of actin polymerization inhibitors

Mol Biol Cell. 2016 Sep 28;27(23):3695-3704. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E16-04-0253. Online ahead of print.


Actin polymerization is a universal mechanism to drive plasma membrane protrusion in motile cells. One apparent exception to this rule is continuing, or even accelerated outgrowth of neuronal processes in the presence of actin polymerization inhibitors. This fact together with a key role of microtubule dynamics in neurite outgrowth led to the concept that microtubules directly drive plasma membrane protrusion, either in the course of polymerization or motor-driven sliding. Surprisingly, a possibility that unextinguished actin polymerization drives neurite outgrowth in the presence of actin drugs was not explored. We show that cultured hippocampal neurons treated with cytochalasin D or latrunculin B contained dense accumulations of branched actin filaments at ∼50% of neurite tips at all tested drug concentrations (1-10 μM). Actin polymerization was required for neurite outgrowth, because only low concentrations of either inhibitor increased the length and/or a number of neurites, whereas high concentrations inhibited neurite outgrowth. Importantly, neurites undergoing active elongation invariably contained a bright F-actin patch at the tip, whereas actin-depleted neurites never elongated, even though they still contained dynamic microtubules. Stabilization of microtubules by taxol treatment did not stop elongation of cytochalasin d-treated neurites. We conclude that actin polymerization is indispensable for neurite elongation.