Axonal path-finding is important in the development of the nervous system, nerve repair and nerve regeneration. The behaviour of the growth cone at the tip of the growing axon determines the direction of axonal growth and migration. We have developed an optical-based system to control the direction of growth of individual axons (nerve fibres) using laser-driven spinning birefringent spheres. One or two optical traps position birefringent beads adjacent to growth cones of cultured goldfish retinal ganglion cell axons. Circularly polarized light with angular momentum causes the trapped bead to spin. This creates a localized microfluidic flow generating an estimated 0.17 pN shear force against the growth cone that turns in response to the shear. The direction of axonal growth can be precisely manipulated by changing the rotation direction and position of this optically driven micromotor. A physical model estimating the shear force density on the axon is described.
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