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J Neurosci. 1996 Sep 15;16(18):5583-92.

Tau binds to the distal axon early in development of polarity in a microtubule- and microfilament-dependent manner.

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Institute of Neurobiology, University of Heidelberg, Germany.


Microtubule-associated protein tau is localized to the axon in situ and has been implicated in the development of neuronal polarity. Here we report that tau is extracted differentially in cultured hippocampal neurons yielding an axon-specific localization under conditions that keep the integrity of the plasma membrane. The amount of bound tau increases toward the distal axon and is highest at the transition from the axonal shaft to the growth cone. This distribution is significantly different from the distribution of axonal microtubules that are most concentrated at the proximal axon. Distal binding of tau to one process appears early in development of polarity in culture and correlates with the onset of axon formation (day 2 in culture). Binding to the distal axon requires intact microtubules and microfilaments. Distal tau binding does not stabilize microtubules selectively against drug-induced disassembly, because colchicine-induced microtubule depolymerization is highest distally. We conclude that binding of tau to the distal axon follows a complex mechanism, is an early event in the development of polarity, and reproduces the axon-specific localization of tau in situ.

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