The morphology of neuronal dendritic spines is a critical indicator of synaptic function. It is regulated by several factors, including the intracellular actin/myosin cytoskeleton and transcellular N-cadherin adhesions. To examine the mechanical relationship between these molecular components, we performed quantitative live-imaging experiments in primary hippocampal neurons. We found that actin turnover and structural motility were lower in dendritic spines than in immature filopodia and increased upon expression of a nonadhesive N-cadherin mutant, resulting in an inverse relationship between spine motility and actin enrichment. Furthermore, the pharmacological stimulation of myosin II induced the rearward motion of actin structures in spines, showing that myosin II exerts tension on the actin network. Strikingly, the formation of stable, spine-like structures enriched in actin was induced at contacts between dendritic filopodia and N-cadherin-coated beads or micropatterns. Finally, computer simulations of actin dynamics mimicked various experimental conditions, pointing to the actin flow rate as an important parameter controlling actin enrichment in dendritic spines. Together these data demonstrate that a clutch-like mechanism between N-cadherin adhesions and the actin flow underlies the stabilization of dendritic filopodia into mature spines, a mechanism that may have important implications in synapse initiation, maturation, and plasticity in the developing brain. 2015 Chazeau, Garcia, Czondor, etal. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). Two months after publication it is available to the public under an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0).
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