Pyramidal neuron morphogenesis requires a septin network that stabilizes filopodia and suppresses lamellipodia during neurite initiation

Pyramidal neurons are a major cell type of the forebrain, consisting of a pyramidally shaped soma with axonal and apicobasal dendritic processes. It is poorly understood how the neuronal soma develops its pyramidal morphology, while generating neurites of the proper shape and orientation. Here, we discovered that the spherical somata of immature neurite-less neurons possess a circumferential wreath-like network of septin filaments, which promotes neuritogenesis by balancing the protrusive activity of lamellipodia and filopodia. In embryonic rat hippocampal and mouse cortical neurons, the septin wreath network consists of curvilinear filaments that contain septins 5, 7, and 11 (Sept5/7/11). The Sept5/7/11 wreath network demarcates a zone of myosin II enrichment and Arp2/3 diminution at the base of filopodial actin bundles. In Sept7-depleted neurons, cell bodies are enlarged with hyperextended lamellae and abnormally shaped neurites that originate from lamellipodia. This phenotype is accompanied by diminished myosin II and filopodia lifetimes and increased Arp2/3 and lamellipodial activity. Inhibition of Arp2/3 rescues soma and neurite phenotypes, indicating that the septin wreath network suppresses the extension of lamellipodia, facilitating the formation of neurites from the filopodia of a consolidated soma. We show that this septin function is critical for developing a pyramidally shaped soma with properly distributed and oriented dendrites in cultured rat hippocampal neurons and in vivo in mouse perinatal cortical neurons. Therefore, the somatic septin cytoskeleton provides a key morphogenetic mechanism for neuritogenesis and the development of pyramidal neurons.