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Traffic. 2006 May;7(5):508-15.

RNA trafficking in axons.

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Department of Proteins and Nucleic Acids, Instituto de Investigaciones Biologicas Clemente Estable, Montevideo, Uruguay.


A substantial number of studies over a period of four decades have indicated that axons contain mRNAs and ribosomes, and are metabolically active in synthesizing proteins locally. For the most part, little attention has been paid to these findings until recently when the concept of targeting of specific mRNAs and translation in subcellular domains in polarized cells emerged to contribute to the likelihood and acceptance of mRNA targeting to axons as well. Trans-acting factor proteins bind to cis-acting sequences in the untranslated region of mRNAs integrated in ribonucleoprotein (RNPs) complexes determine its targeting in neurons. In vitro studies in immature axons have shown that molecular motors proteins (kinesins and myosins) associate to RNPs suggesting they would participate in its transport to growth cones. Tau and actin mRNAs are transported as RNPs, and targeted to axons as well as ribosomes. Periaxoplasmic ribosomal plaques (PARPs), which are systematically distributed discrete peripheral ribosome-containing, actin-rich formations in myelinated axons, also are enriched with actin and myosin Va mRNAs and additional regulatory proteins. The localization of mRNAs in PARPs probably means that PARPs are local centers of translational activity, and that these domains are the final destination in the axon compartment for targeted macromolecular traffic originating in the cell body. The role of glial cells as a potentially complementary source of axonal mRNAs and ribosomes is discussed in light of early reports and recent ultrastructural observations related to the possibility of glial-axon trans-endocytosis.

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