We have studied the role of vinculin in regulating integrin-dependent neurite outgrowth in PC12 cells, a neuronal cell line. Vinculin is a cytoskeletal protein believed to mediate interactions between integrins and the actin cytoskeleton. In differentiated PC12 cells, the cell body, the neurite, and the growth cone contain vinculin. Within the growth cone, both the proximal region of "consolidation" and the more distal region consisting of lamellipodia and filopodia contain vinculin. To study the role of vinculin in neurite outgrowth, we generated vinculin-deficient isolates of PC12 cell lines by transfection with vectors expressing antisense vinculin RNA. In some of these cell lines, vinculin levels were reduced to 18-23% of normal levels. In the vinculin-deficient cell lines, neurite outgrowth on laminin was significantly reduced. In time-lapse analysis, growth cones advanced much more slowly than normal. Further analysis indicated that this deficit could be explained in large part by changes in the behaviors of filopodia and lamellipodia. Filopodia were formed in normal numbers, extended at normal rates, and extended to approximately normal lengths, but were much less stable in the vinculin deficient compared to control PC12 cells. Similarly, lamellipodia formed and grew nearly normally, but were dramatically less stable in the vinculin- deficient cells. This can account for the reduction in rate of growth cone advance. These results indicate that interactions between integrins and the actin-based cytoskeleton are necessary for stability of both filopodia and lamellipodia.