Neuronal paxillin and drebrin mediate BDNF-induced force transduction and growth cone turning in a soft tissue-like environment
Soft tissue environments govern neuronal morphogenesis. However, the precise molecular mechanisms underlying chemotropism-directed axonal growth cone movement in extremely soft environments remain unclear. Here, we show that drebrin, a growth cone T-zone protein, modulates growth cone turning in response to BDNF coated on a soft substrate. Structurally, axonal growth cones of rodent hippocampal neurons grown on 0.1 kPa hydrogels possess an expanded T-zone in which drebrin is highly integrated with both F-actin and microtubules. Biochemically, we identify paxillin as interacting with drebrin in cells grown on 0.1 kPa hydrogels but not on glass coverslips. When grown on 0.1 kPa substrates, growth cones asymmetrically exposed to BDNF-bound stripes exhibit enhanced paxillin/drebrin interaction on the side facing the stripes, an activity that is PKA- and AAK1-dependent, but independent of Src kinase. Functionally, we show that BDNF-induced growth cone turning and force generation on soft substrates require drebrin phosphorylation and paxillin/drebrin association.