Contact guidance of CNS neurites on grooved quartz: Influence of groove dimensions, neuronal age and cell type

Ann M. Rajnicek*, Stephen Britland, Colin D. McCaig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

389 Citations (Scopus)


We used an in vitro system that eliminates competing guidance cues found in embryos to determine whether substratum topography alone provides important neurite guidance information. Dissociated embryonic Xenopus spinal cord neurons and rat hippocampal neurons were grown on quartz etched with a series of parallel grooves. Xenopus neurites grew parallel to grooves as shallow as 14 nm and as narrow as 1 μm. Hippocampal neurites grew parallel to deep, wide grooves but perpendicular to shallow, narrow ones. Grooved substrata determined the sites at which neurites emerged from somas: Xenopus neurites sprouted from regions parallel to grooves but presumptive axons on rat hippocampal neurons emerged perpendicular to grooves and presumptive dendrites emerged parallel to them. Neurites grew faster in the favored direction of orientation and turned through large angles to align on grooves. The frequency of perpendicular alignment of hippocampal neurites depended on the age of the embryos from which neurons were isolated, suggesting that contact guidance is regulated in development. Collectively, the data indicate that substratum topography is a potent morphogenetic factor for developing CNS neurons and suggest that in addition to a role in pathfinding the geometry of the embryo assists in establishing neuronal polarity. In the companion paper we explore the cellular mechanism for contact guidance of growth cones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2905-2913
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1997


  • Growth cone
  • Hippocampal neuron
  • Neuronal development
  • Substratum
  • Topographic guidance
  • Xenopus neuron


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