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Nature. 1986 Jun 19-25;321(6072):788-90.

Assembly of microtubules at the tip of growing axons.


The growth of axons in the developing nervous system depends on the elongation of the microtubules that form their principal longitudinal structural element. It is not known whether individual microtubules in the axon elongate at their proximal ends, close to the cell body, and then move forward into the lengthening axon, or whether tubulin subunits are transported to the tip of the axon and assembled there onto the free ends of microtubules. The former possibility is supported by studies of slow axonal transport in mature nerves from which it has been deduced that microtubule assembly occurs principally at the neuronal cell body. By contrast, the polarity of microtubules in axons, which have their 'plus' or 'fast-growing' ends distal to the cell body, suggests that assembly occurs at the growing tip, or growth cone, of the axon. We have addressed this question by topically applying Colcemid (N-desacetyl-N-methylcolchicine), and other drugs which alter microtubule stability, to different regions of isolated nerve cells growing in tissue culture. We find that the sensitivity to these drugs is greatest at the growth cone by at least two orders of magnitude, suggesting that this is a major site of microtubule assembly during axonal growth.

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