Glial Cell-Axonal Growth Cone Interactions in Neurodevelopment and Regeneration

Front Neurosci. 2020 Mar 10;14:203. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.00203. eCollection 2020.


The developing nervous system is a complex yet organized system of neurons, glial support cells, and extracellular matrix that arranges into an elegant, highly structured network. The extracellular and intracellular events that guide axons to their target locations have been well characterized in many regions of the developing nervous system. However, despite extensive work, we have a poor understanding of how axonal growth cones interact with surrounding glial cells to regulate network assembly. Glia-to-growth cone communication is either direct through cellular contacts or indirect through modulation of the local microenvironment via the secretion of factors or signaling molecules. Microglia, oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, Schwann cells, neural progenitor cells, and olfactory ensheathing cells have all been demonstrated to directly impact axon growth and guidance. Expanding our understanding of how different glial cell types directly interact with growing axons throughout neurodevelopment will inform basic and clinical neuroscientists. For example, identifying the key cellular players beyond the axonal growth cone itself may provide translational clues to develop therapeutic interventions to modulate neuron growth during development or regeneration following injury. This review will provide an overview of the current knowledge about glial involvement in development of the nervous system, specifically focusing on how glia directly interact with growing and maturing axons to influence neuronal connectivity. This focus will be applied to the clinically-relevant field of regeneration following spinal cord injury, highlighting how a better understanding of the roles of glia in neurodevelopment can inform strategies to improve axon regeneration after injury.

Keywords: axon; cell-cell interaction; glia; growth cone; neurodevelopment; spinal cord injury.

Publication types

  • Review