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J Neurosci. 2006 Jul 5;26(27):7131-4.

RNA trafficking and local protein synthesis in dendrites: an overview.

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Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1761, USA.


It is now widely accepted that mRNAs localize to dendrites and that translation of these mRNAs is regulated in response to neuronal activity. Recent studies have begun to reveal the underpinnings of these processes and to underscore the importance of local protein synthesis to synaptic remodeling and plasticity. When Steward and Levy (1982) first reported their observation of polyribosomes at the base of spines, the prevailing view was that all proteins were synthesized in the cell body and then transported to distal compartments of neurons. Steward and Levy's discovery, however, raised the intriguing possibility that mRNAs could be transported to synapses and locally translated in response to synaptic stimulation. This provided an elegant mechanism for spatially restricting gene expression within the neuron, such that individual synapses could independently regulate their morphology and efficacy, in a persistent, protein synthesis-dependent manner, in response to specific stimuli. It is now widely accepted that mRNAs do localize to dendrites and that translation of these mRNAs contributes to synaptic plasticity. As is evident from the collection of Mini-Reviews on dendritic protein synthesis in this issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, the field has evolved to focus on a series of key questions, including the following: (1) what mRNAs are present in dendrites? (2) How are these mRNAs transported from the nucleus into the dendrite? (3) How is translation of these mRNAs regulated by neuronal activity? and (4) What is the function of local translation of specific transcripts? In this brief introductory overview, we will consider each of these questions in turn.

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