ABSTRACT

Since the pioneering work of Ramón y Cajal, scientists have sought to unravel the complexities of axon development underlying neural circuit formation. Micrometer-scale axonal growth cones navigate to targets that are often centimeters away. To reach their targets, growth cones react to dynamic environmental cues that change in the order of seconds to days. Proper axon growth and guidance are essential to circuit formation, and progress in imaging has been integral to studying these processes. In particular, advances in high- and super-resolution microscopy provide the spatial and temporal resolution required for studying developing axons. In this Review, we describe how improved microscopy has revolutionized our understanding of axonal development. We discuss how novel technologies, specifically light-sheet and super-resolution microscopy, led to new discoveries at the cellular scale by imaging axon outgrowth and circuit wiring with extreme precision. We next examine how advanced microscopy broadened our understanding of the subcellular dynamics driving axon growth and guidance. We finally assess the current challenges that the field of axonal biology still faces for imaging axons, and examine how future technology could meet these needs.

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