The mechanism of nerve orientation in an applied electric field has been investigated using a number of pharmacological agents. Galvanotropism may depend on redistribution within the plasma membrane of integral membrane proteins (IMP); blocking this with concanavalin A inhibited orientation. Orientation may depend also on an influx of Ca2+; Co2+ and La3+ blockade of calcium channels inhibited turning in an electric field. Organic blockers of calcium channels did not influence orientation, suggesting that L-type Ca2+ channels may not be present at the growth cone. Procedures that may induce asymmetric entry of Ca2+ on the anodal side of cells caused a reversal of normal galvanotropism, with growth directed towards the anode. This may implicate local levels of cytoplasmic Ca2+ within the growth cone in controlling turning behaviour. An asymmetric distribution of filopodia precedes and may predict the direction of nerve growth in an electric field. Various pharmacological agents perturbed the distribution of filopodia in such a way that this did not reflect subsequent orientation. It is suggested that, normally, local Ca2+ increases and an asymmetry of filopodia operate together in determining orientation, but that filopodial activity is subordinate to and can be overriden by local Ca2+ levels in the growth cone. In addition, two of the drug treatments markedly increased rates of nerve growth, which may be of importance in nerve regeneration.

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