Topography and Nanomechanics of Live Neuronal Growth Cones Analyzed by Atomic Force Microscopy

Ying Xiong, Purdue University - Main Campus
Aih Cheun Lee, Purdue University - Main Campus
Daniel Suter, Purdue University - Main Campus
Gil U. Lee, Purdue University - Main Campus

Date of this Version


This document has been peer-reviewed.



Neuronal growth cones are motile structures located at the end of axons that translate extracellular guidance information into directional movements. Despite the important role of growth cones in neuronal development and regeneration, relatively little is known about the topography and mechanical properties of distinct subcellular growth cone regions under live conditions. In this study, we used the AFM to study the P domain, T zone, and C domain of live Aplysia growth cones. The average height of these regions was calculated from contact mode AFM images to be 183 +/- 33, 690 +/- 274, and 1322 +/- 164 nm, respectively. These findings are consistent with data derived from dynamic mode images of live and contact mode images of fixed growth cones. Nano-indentation measurements indicate that the elastic moduli of the C domain and T zone ruffling region ranged between 3-7 and 7-23 kPa, respectively. The range of the measured elastic modulus of the P domain was 10-40 kPa. High resolution images of the P domain suggest its relatively high elastic modulus results from a dense meshwork of actin filaments in lamellipodia and from actin bundles in the filopodia. The increased mechanical stiffness of the P and T domains is likely important to support and transduce tension that develops during growth cone steering.


Engineering | Nanoscience and Nanotechnology