Excitatory and inhibitory neuronal cell fates require specific expression of both neurotransmitter and morphological phenotypes. The role of the F-actin cytoskeleton in morphological phenotypes has been well documented, but its role in neurotransmitter phenotype expression remains unknown. Here we present evidence that the F-actin binding protein cortactin participates in determining both aspects of cell fate in large telencephalic neurons. We show that the expression of cortactin was upregulated early in development just prior to appearance of GABAergic neurons in the chick telencephalon at embryonic day 6. This program was faithfully maintained in primary neuronal cultures derived from E6 telencephalon, where immature neurons differentiate either to large pyramidal and large stellate excitatory neurons or to small inhibitory GABAergic neurons. Immunostaining revealed that cortactin was enriched in areas of membrane budding, growth cones, and in the cell cortex of immature neurons. With differentiation, intense punctate staining was also observed in an extraction-resistant cytosolic compartment of the soma and processes. More importantly, suppression of cortactin by inhibition of cortactin mRNA translation with antisense oligonucleotides caused permanent phenotypic changes. Specifically, a transient suppression of cortactin was achieved in immature neurons with a single exposure to antisense oligonucleotides. This inhibition first induced both the expression of mRNA and the enzymatic activity of GAD significantly earlier than in control neurons. Second, cortactin-suppressed large projectional neurons exhibited significantly shorter processes and growth cones with protrusive filopodia and an enlarged lamellipodia veil. Most importantly, this remodeling of neuritic outgrowth in projectional somata was accompanied by the ectopic induction of GABA (*-aminobutyric acid) expression. Considering this data altogether, it appears that cortactin may function to suppress concurrently several parameters of the GABAergic program in large developing neurons.

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