Growth cones are able to navigate over long distances to find their appropriate target by following guidance cues that are often presented to them in the form of an extracellular gradient. These external cues are converted into gradients of specific signaling molecules inside growth cones, while at the same time these internal signals are amplified. The amplified instruction is then used to generate asymmetric changes in the growth cone turning machinery so that one side of the growth cone migrates at a rate faster than the other side, and thus the growth cone turns toward or away from the external cue. This review examines how signal specification and amplification can be achieved inside the growth cone by multiple second messenger signaling pathways activated downstream of guidance cues. These include the calcium ion, cyclic nucleotide, and phosphatidylinositol signaling pathways.
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