Filopodia and focal adhesions: An integrated system driving branching morphogenesis in neuronal pathfinding and angiogenesis. Academic Article uri icon


  • Single cell branching during development in vertebrates is typified by neuronal branching to form neurites and vascular branches formed by sprouting angiogenesis. Neurons and endothelial tip cells possess subcellular protrusions that share many common features from the morphological to the molecular level. Both systems utilize filopodia as their cellular protrusion organelles and depend on specific integrin-mediated adhesions to the local extracellular matrix for guidance in their pathfinding. We discuss the similar molecular machineries involved in these two types of cell branch formation and use their analogy to propose a new mechanism for angiogenic filopodia function, namely as adhesion assembly sites. In support of this model we provide primary data of angiogenesis in zebrafish in vivo showing that the actin assembly factor VASP participates in both filopodia formation and adhesion assembly at the base of the filopodia, enabling forward progress of the tip cell. The use of filopodia and their associated adhesions provide a common mechanism for neuronal and endothelial pathfinding during development in response to extracellular matrix cues.

publication date

  • July 1, 2019