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Mol Biol Cell. 2001 Oct;12(10):3257-67.

Rapid intermittent movement of axonal neurofilaments observed by fluorescence photobleaching.

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Neuroscience Program, Department of Biological Sciences, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701, USA.


Observations on naturally occurring gaps in the axonal neurofilament array of cultured neurons have demonstrated that neurofilament polymers move along axons in a rapid, intermittent, and highly asynchronous manner. In contrast, studies on axonal neurofilaments using laser photobleaching have not detected movement. Here, we describe a modified photobleaching strategy that does permit the direct observation of neurofilament movement. Axons of cultured neurons expressing GFP-tagged neurofilament protein were bleached by excitation with the mercury arc lamp of a conventional epifluorescence microscope for 12-60 s. The length of the bleached region ranged from 10 to 60 microm. By bleaching thin axons, which have relatively few neurofilaments, we were able to reduce the fluorescent intensity enough to allow the detection of neurofilaments that moved in from the surrounding unbleached regions. Time-lapse imaging at short intervals revealed rapid, intermittent, and highly asynchronous movement of fluorescent filaments through the bleached regions at peak rates of up to 2.8 microm/s. The kinetics of movement were very similar to our previous observations on neurofilaments moving through naturally occurring gaps, which indicates that the movement was not impaired by the photobleaching process. These results demonstrate that fluorescence photobleaching can be used to study the slow axonal transport of cytoskeletal polymers, but only if the experimental strategy is designed to ensure that rapid asynchronous movements can be detected. This may explain the failure of previous photobleaching studies to reveal the movement of neurofilament proteins and other cytoskeletal proteins in axons.

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