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Neuron. 1997 Dec;19(6):1175-86.

Neuronal polarity: vectorial cytoplasmic flow precedes axon formation.

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Cell Biology Program, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelburg, Federal Republic of Germany.


Axon formation in multipolar neurons is believed to depend on the existence of precise sorting mechanisms for axonal membrane and membrane-associated proteins. Conclusive evidence in living neurons, however, is lacking. In the present study, we use light and video microscopy to address this issue directly. We show that axon formation is preceded by the appearance in one of the multiple neurites of (1) a larger growth cone, (2) a higher amount and greater transport of membrane organelles, (3) polarized delivery of TGN-derived vesicles, (4) a higher concentration of mitochondria and peroxisomes, (5) a higher concentration of a cytosolic protein, and (6) a higher concentration of ribosomes. These results provide evidence for the involvement of bulk cytoplasmic flow as an early determinant of neuronal morphological polarization. Molecular sorting events would later trigger the establishment of functional polarity.

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