Strategies for studying microtubule transport in the neuron

Microsc Res Tech. 2000 Jan 15;48(2):75-84. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0029(20000115)48:2<75::AID-JEMT3>3.0.CO;2-U.


Microtubules are prominent cytoskeletal elements within the neuron. They are essential for the differentiation, growth, and maintenance of axons and dendrites. The microtubules within each type of process have a distinct pattern of organization, and these distinct patterns result in many of the morphological and structural features that distinguish axons and dendrites from one another. There are a number of challenges that must be met in order for the neuron to establish the microtubule arrays of axons and dendrites. One attractive model invokes the active transport of microtubules from the cell body of the neuron into and down these processes. In support of this model, specific motor proteins have now been identified within neurons that have the necessary properties to transport microtubules into developing axons and dendrites with the appropriate orientation for each type of process. An important goal is to develop microscopic methods that permit the visualization of microtubule transport within different regions of the neuron. To date, achieving this goal has met with mixed success, probably as a result of the geometry of the neuron and the inherent complexity of the neuronal microtubule arrays. While some approaches have failed to reveal microtubule transport, other more recent approaches have proven successful. These approaches provide strong visual support for a model based on microtubule transport, and provide hope that future approaches can provide even clearer demonstrations of this transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport / physiology*
  • Axons / physiology
  • Biological Transport, Active / physiology
  • Cell Polarity
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Microtubules / metabolism*
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Tubulin / metabolism


  • Tubulin