Computational simulations reveal that Abl activity controls cohesiveness of actin networks in growth cones

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Molecular biology of the cell








Extensive studies of growing axons have revealed many individual components and protein interactions that guide neuronal morphogenesis. Despite this, however, we lack any clear picture of the emergent mechanism by which this nanometer-scale biochemistry generates the multimicron-scale morphology and cell biology of axon growth and guidance in vivo. To address this, we studied the downstream effects of the Abl signaling pathway using a computer simulation software (MEDYAN) that accounts for mechanochemical dynamics of active polymers. Previous studies implicate two Abl effectors, Arp2/3 and Enabled, in Abl-dependent axon guidance decisions. We now find that Abl alters actin architecture primarily by activating Arp2/3, while Enabled plays a more limited role. Our simulations show that simulations mimicking modest levels of Abl activity bear striking similarity to actin profiles obtained experimentally from live imaging of actin in wild-type axons in vivo. Using a graph theoretical filament-filament contact analysis, moreover, we find that networks mimicking hyperactivity of Abl (enhanced Arp2/3) are fragmented into smaller domains of actin that interact weakly with each other, consistent with the pattern of actin fragmentation observed upon Abl overexpression in vivo. Two perturbative simulations further confirm that high-Arp2/3 actin networks are mechanically disconnected and fail to mount a cohesive response to perturbation. Taken together, these data provide a molecular-level picture of how the large-scale organization of the axonal cytoskeleton arises from the biophysics of actin networks.


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