Guiding neuronal growth with light

Publication Type
Journal Article
Year of Publication
Ehrlicher, A.
Name of Publication

Control over neuronal growth is a fundamental objective in neuroscience, cell biology, developmental biology, biophysics, and biomedicine and is particularly important for the formation of neural circuits in vitro, as well as nerve regeneration in vivo [Zeck, G. & Fromherz, P. (2001) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 98, 10457-10462]. We have shown experimentally that we can use weak optical forces to guide the direction taken by the leading edge, or growth cone, of a nerve cell. In actively extending growth cones, a laser spot is placed in front of a specific area of the nerve's leading edge, enhancing growth into the beam focus and resulting in guided neuronal turns as well as enhanced growth. The power of our laser is chosen so that the resulting gradient forces are sufficiently powerful to bias the actin polymerization-driven lamellipodia extension, but too weak to hold and move the growth cone. We are therefore using light to control a natural biological process, in sharp contrast to the established technique of optical tweezers [Ashkin, A. (1970) Phys. Rev. Lett. 24, 156-159; Ashkin, A. & Dziedzic, J. M. (1987) Science 235, 1517-1520], which uses large optical forces to manipulate entire structures. Our results therefore open an avenue to controlling neuronal growth in vitro and in vivo with a simple, noncontact technique.