Sorting and directed transport of membrane proteins during development of hippocampal neurons in culture

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Jun 19;98(13):7051-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.111146198.


Hippocampal neurons in culture develop morphological polarity in a sequential pattern; axons form before dendrites. Molecular differences, particularly those of membrane proteins, underlie the functional polarity of these domains, yet little is known about the temporal relationship between membrane protein polarization and morphological polarization. We took advantage of viral expression systems to determine when during development the polarization of membrane proteins arises. All markers were unpolarized in neurons before axonogenesis. In neurons with a morphologically distinguishable axon, even on the first day in culture, both axonal and dendritic proteins were polarized. The degree of polarization at these early stages was somewhat less than in mature cells and varied from cell to cell. The cellular mechanism responsible for the polarization of the dendritic marker protein transferrin receptor (TfR) in mature cells centers on directed transport to the dendritic domain. To examine the relationship between cell surface polarization and transport, we assessed the selectivity of transport by live cell imaging. TfR-green fluorescent protein-containing vesicles were already preferentially transported into dendrites at 2 days, the earliest time point we could measure. The selectivity of transport also varied somewhat among cells, and the amount of TfR-green fluorescent protein fluorescence on intracellular structures within the axon correlated with the amount of cell surface expression. This observation implies that selective microtubule-based transport is the primary mechanism that underlies the polarization of TfR on the cell surface. By 5 days in culture, the extent of polarization on the cell surface and the selectivity of transport reached mature levels.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Cell Polarity
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Video
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neurites / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Protein Transport
  • Rats
  • Receptors, LDL / genetics
  • Receptors, LDL / metabolism
  • Receptors, Transferrin / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Time Factors
  • Transfection


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, LDL
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins