During morphogenesis, neuronal precursor cells migrate from the zone where they are born to their final destination, which, in some cases, is at a distance of several millimeters. After reaching their destination, neurons must establish appropriate synaptic connections by sending out from their soma projections called neurites. The motion of neurites is guided by growth cones located at their tips. Growth cones contain a variety of chemical and
mechanical receptors and sophisticated biochemical machinery that couples these receptors to the cytoskeleton. Extruding from the tip of the growth cone are highly motile structures called filopodia and lamellipodia that are used to explore and probe the environment. All these complex events, which are at the basis of neuronal development and differentiation, involve cell motility requiring a precise control of cellular and molecular motors.
We study, by optical tweezers and force spectroscopy, the dynamic of cytoskeletal elements in the growth cone, and how the growth cone navigate in a controlled mechano-chemical micro-enviroment.