Protein synthesis in axons and terminals: significance for maintenance, plasticity and regulation of phenotype. With a critique of slow transport theory

Prog Neurobiol. 2000 Sep;62(1):1-62. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(99)00062-3.


This article focuses on local protein synthesis as a basis for maintaining axoplasmic mass, and expression of plasticity in axons and terminals. Recent evidence of discrete ribosomal domains, subjacent to the axolemma, which are distributed at intermittent intervals along axons, are described. Studies of locally synthesized proteins, and proteins encoded by RNA transcripts in axons indicate that the latter comprise constituents of the so-called slow transport rate groups. A comprehensive review and analysis of published data on synaptosomes and identified presynaptic terminals warrants the conclusion that a cytoribosomal machinery is present, and that protein synthesis could play a role in long-term changes of modifiable synapses. The concept that all axonal proteins are supplied by slow transport after synthesis in the perikaryon is challenged because the underlying assumptions of the model are discordant with known metabolic principles. The flawed slow transport model is supplanted by a metabolic model that is supported by evidence of local synthesis and turnover of proteins in axons. A comparison of the relative strengths of the two models shows that, unlike the local synthesis model, the slow transport model fails as a credible theoretical construct to account for axons and terminals as we know them. Evidence for a dynamic anatomy of axons is presented. It is proposed that a distributed "sprouting program," which governs local plasticity of axons, is regulated by environmental cues, and ultimately depends on local synthesis. In this respect, nerve regeneration is treated as a special case of the sprouting program. The term merotrophism is proposed to denote a class of phenomena, in which regional phenotype changes are regulated locally without specific involvement of the neuronal nucleus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Phenotype
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology*
  • Synaptosomes / physiology


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins