During development, growth cones navigate to their targets via numerous interactions with molecular guidance cues, yet the mechanisms of how growth cones translate guidance information into navigational decisions are poorly understood. We have examined the role of intracellular Ca2+ in laminin (LN)-mediated growth cone navigation in vitro, using chick dorsal root ganglion neurons. Subsequent to contacting LN-coated beads with filopodia, growth cones displayed a series of stereotypic changes in behavior, including turning toward LN-coated beads and a phase of increased rates of outgrowth after a pause at LN-coated beads. A pharmacological approach indicated that LN-mediated growth cone turning required an influx of extracellular Ca2+, likely in filopodia with LN contact, and activation of calmodulin (CaM). Surprisingly, fluorescent Ca2+ imaging revealed no LN-induced rise in intracellular Ca2+ in filopodia attached to their parent growth cone. However, isolation of filopodia by laser-assisted transection unmasked a rapid, LN-specific rise in intracellular Ca2+ (+73 +/- 11 nM). Additionally, a second, sustained rise in intracellular Ca2+ (+62 +/- 8 nM) occurred in growth cones, with a distinct delay 28 +/- 3 min after growth cone filopodia contacted LN-coated beads. This delayed, sustained Ca2+ signal paralleled the phase of increased rates of outgrowth, and both events were sensitive to the inhibition of Ca2+/CaM-dependent protein kinase II (CaM-kinase II) with 2 microM KN-62. We propose that LN-mediated growth cone guidance can be attributed, in part, to two temporally and functionally distinct Ca2+ signals linked by a signaling cascade composed of CaM and CaM-kinase II.
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