Force Generation by Molecular-Motor-Powered Microtubule Bundles; Implications for Neuronal Polarization and Growth
Previous work using glass microneedles to apply calibrated, localized force to neurons showed that tensile force is a sufficient signal for neurite initiation and elongation. However, previous studies did not examine the kinetics or probability of neurite initiation as a function of force or the rate of force application. Here we report the use of a new technique-magnetic bead force application-to systematically investigate the role of force in these phenomena with better ease of use and control over force than glass microneedles. Force-induced neurite initiation from embryonic chick forebrain neurons appeared to be a first-order random process whose rate increased with increasing force, and required the presence of peripheral microtubules. In addition, the probability of initiation was more than twofold lower for neurons exposed to rapid initial force ramps (450 pN/s) than for neurons exposed to slower ramps (1.5 and 11 pN/s). We observed a low force threshold for elongation (15-100 pN), which was not previously detected in chick forebrain neurites elongated by glass microneedles. Finally, neurites subjected to constant force elongated at variable instantaneous rates, and switched abruptly between elongation and retraction, similar to spontaneous, growth-cone-mediated outgrowth and microtubule dynamic instability.