A functional role for intra-axonal protein synthesis during axonal regeneration from adult sensory neurons

J Neurosci. 2001 Dec 1;21(23):9291-303. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.21-23-09291.2001.


Although intradendritic protein synthesis has been documented in adult neurons, the question of whether axons actively synthesize proteins remains controversial. Adult sensory neurons that are conditioned by axonal crush can rapidly extend processes in vitro by regulating the translation of existing mRNAs (Twiss et al., 2000). These regenerating processes contain axonal but not dendritic proteins. Here we show that these axonal processes of adult sensory neurons cultured after conditioning injury contain ribosomal proteins, translational initiation factors, and rRNA. Pure preparations of regenerating axons separated from the DRG cell bodies can actively synthesize proteins in vitro and contain ribosome-bound beta-actin and neurofilament mRNAs. Blocking protein synthesis in these regenerating sensory axons causes a rapid retraction of their growth cones when communication with the cell body is blocked by axotomy or colchicine treatment. These findings indicate that axons of adult mammalian neurons can synthesize proteins and suggest that, under some circumstances, intra-axonal translation contributes to structural integrity of the growth cone in regenerating axons. By immunofluorescence, translation factors, ribosomal proteins, and rRNA were also detected in motor axons of ventral spinal roots analyzed after 7 d in vivo after a peripheral axonal crush injury. Thus, adult motor neurons are also likely capable of intra-axonal protein synthesis in vivo after axonal injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Colchicine / pharmacology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism
  • Growth Cones / drug effects
  • Growth Cones / physiology
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Video
  • Nerve Crush
  • Nerve Regeneration / drug effects
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology*
  • Neurofilament Proteins / genetics
  • Neurofilament Proteins / metabolism
  • Neurons, Afferent / cytology
  • Neurons, Afferent / drug effects
  • Neurons, Afferent / metabolism*
  • Peptide Initiation Factors / metabolism
  • Protein Biosynthesis / physiology
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Ribosomal / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Ribosomal Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Sciatic Nerve / physiology


  • Actins
  • Neurofilament Proteins
  • Peptide Initiation Factors
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • Ribosomal Proteins
  • Colchicine