Mechanical tension can specify axonal fate in hippocampal neurons

J Cell Biol. 2002 Nov 11;159(3):499-508. doi: 10.1083/jcb.200207174. Epub 2002 Nov 4.


Here we asked whether applied mechanical tension would stimulate undifferentiated minor processes of cultured hippocampal neurons to become axons and whether tension could induce a second axon in an already polarized neuron. Experimental tension applied to minor processes produced extensions that demonstrated axonal character, regardless of the presence of an existing axon. Towed neurites showed a high rate of spontaneous growth cone advance and could continue to grow out for 1-3 d after towing. The developmental course of experimental neurites was found to be similar to that of unmanipulated spontaneous axons. Furthermore, the experimentally elongated neurites showed compartmentation of the axonal markers dephospho-tau and L-1 in towed outgrowth after 24 h. Extension of a second axon from an already polarized neuron does not lead to the loss of the spontaneous axon either immediately or after longer term growth. In addition, we were able to initiate neurites de novo that subsequently acquired axonal character even though spontaneous growth cone advance began while the towed neurite was still no longer than its sibling processes. This suggests that tension rather than the achievement of a critical neurite length determined axonal specification.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Cell Polarity
  • Cell Size
  • Cell Surface Extensions / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Growth Cones / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / cytology*
  • Mechanics
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Time Factors
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • tau Proteins