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J Neurosci. 1999 Jan 1;19(1):1-9.

Synthesis of beta-tubulin, actin, and other proteins in axons of sympathetic neurons in compartmented cultures.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2H7 Canada.


The proteins needed for growth and maintenance of the axon are generally believed to be synthesized in the cell bodies and delivered to the axons by anterograde transport. However, recent reports suggest that some proteins can also be synthesized within axons. We used [35S]methionine metabolic labeling to investigate axonal protein synthesis in compartmented cultures of sympathetic neurons from newborn rats. Incubation of distal axons for 4 hr with [35S]methionine resulted in a highly specific pattern of labeled axonal proteins on SDS-PAGE, with 4 prominent bands in the 43-55 kDa range. The labeled proteins in axons were not synthesized in the cell bodies, because they were also produced by axons after the cell bodies had been removed. Two of the proteins were identified by immunoprecipitation as actin and beta-tubulin. Axons synthesized <1% of the actin and tubulin synthesized in the cell bodies and transported into the axons, and 75-85% inhibition of axonal protein synthesis by cycloheximide and puromycin failed to inhibit axonal elongation. Nonetheless, the specific production by axons of the major proteins of the axonal cytoskeleton suggests that axonal protein synthesis arises from specific mechanisms and likely has biological significance. One hypothetical scenario involves neurons with long axons in vivo in which losses from turnover during axonal transport may limit the availability of cell body synthesized proteins to the distal axons. In this case, a significant fraction of axonal proteins might be supplied by axonal synthesis, which could, therefore, play important roles in axonal maintenance, regeneration, and sprouting.

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