Visualising the cytoskeletal machinery in neuronal growth cones using cryo-electron tomography

J Cell Sci. 2022 Apr 1;135(7):jcs259234. doi: 10.1242/jcs.259234. Epub 2022 Apr 8.


Neurons extend axons to form the complex circuitry of the mature brain. This depends on the coordinated response and continuous remodelling of the microtubule and F-actin networks in the axonal growth cone. Growth cone architecture remains poorly understood at nanoscales. We therefore investigated mouse hippocampal neuron growth cones using cryo-electron tomography to directly visualise their three-dimensional subcellular architecture with molecular detail. Our data showed that the hexagonal arrays of actin bundles that form filopodia penetrate and terminate deep within the growth cone interior. We directly observed the modulation of these and other growth cone actin bundles by alteration of individual F-actin helical structures. Microtubules with blunt, slightly flared or gently curved ends predominated in the growth cone, frequently contained lumenal particles and exhibited lattice defects. Investigation of the effect of absence of doublecortin, a neurodevelopmental cytoskeleton regulator, on growth cone cytoskeleton showed no major anomalies in overall growth cone organisation or in F-actin subpopulations. However, our data suggested that microtubules sustained more structural defects, highlighting the importance of microtubule integrity during growth cone migration.

Keywords: Actin; Cytoskeleton; Doublecortin; Growth cone; Microtubule; Neuron.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins*
  • Animals
  • Axons
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Electron Microscope Tomography
  • Growth Cones*
  • Mice
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure
  • Neurons


  • Actins