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Front Cell Neurosci. 2017 Nov 6;11:332. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2017.00332. eCollection 2017.

Heterogeneity of the Axon Initial Segment in Interneurons and Pyramidal Cells of Rodent Visual Cortex.

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Institute of Neuroanatomy, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Center for Biomedicine and Medical Technology Mannheim (CBTM), Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany.
Developmental Neurobiology, Department of Zoology and Neurobiology, Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum, Germany.
Live Cell Imaging Core Mannheim (LIMA), Medical Faculty Mannheim, Center for Biomedicine and Medical Technology Mannheim (CBTM), Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany.


The microdomain that orchestrates action potential initiation in neurons is the axon initial segment (AIS). It has long been considered to be a rather homogeneous domain at the very proximal axon hillock with relatively stable length, particularly in cortical pyramidal cells. However, studies in other brain regions paint a different picture. In hippocampal CA1, up to 50% of axons emerge from basal dendrites. Further, in about 30% of thick-tufted layer V pyramidal neurons in rat somatosensory cortex, axons have a dendritic origin. Consequently, the AIS is separated from the soma. Recent in vitro and in vivo studies have shown that cellular excitability is a function of AIS length/position and somatodendritic morphology, undermining a potentially significant impact of AIS heterogeneity for neuronal function. We therefore investigated neocortical axon morphology and AIS composition, hypothesizing that the initial observation of seemingly homogeneous AIS is inadequate and needs to take into account neuronal cell types. Here, we biolistically transfected cortical neurons in organotypic cultures to visualize the entire neuron and classify cell types in combination with immunolabeling against AIS markers. Using confocal microscopy and morphometric analysis, we investigated axon origin, AIS position, length, diameter as well as distance to the soma. We find a substantial AIS heterogeneity in visual cortical neurons, classified into three groups: (I) axons with somatic origin with proximal AIS at the axon hillock; (II) axons with somatic origin with distal AIS, with a discernible gap between the AIS and the soma; and (III) axons with dendritic origin (axon-carrying dendrite cell, AcD cell) and an AIS either starting directly at the axon origin or more distal to that point. Pyramidal cells have significantly longer AIS than interneurons. Interneurons with vertical columnar axonal projections have significantly more distal AIS locations than all other cells with their prevailing phenotype as an AcD cell. In contrast, neurons with perisomatic terminations display most often an axon originating from the soma. Our data contribute to the emerging understanding that AIS morphology is highly variable, and potentially a function of the cell type.


axon initial segment; axon-carrying dendrite cell; basket cell; interneuron; pyramidal neuron; βIV-spectrin

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