Terminally postmitotic neurons continue to express many of the kinesin-related proteins known to configure microtubules during mitosis. Drugs that inhibit these kinesins are being developed as anti-cancer agents with the hope that they will inhibit proliferation of tumor cells without having adverse effects on the nervous system. The prototype, termed monastrol, inhibits the kinesin known as Eg5, which is essential for maintaining separation of the half-spindles. Eg5 is also highly expressed in neurons, particularly during development. Exposure of cultured sympathetic neurons to monastrol for a few hours increased both the number and the growth rate of the axons. With additional time, the overall lengths of the axons were indistinguishable from controls. Sensory neurons showed a similar short-term increase in axonal growth rate. However, prolonged exposure resulted in shorter axons, suggesting that sensory neurons may be more sensitive to toxic effects of the drug. Nevertheless, the overall health of the cultures was still far more robust than cultures treated with taxol, a drug commonly used for anti-cancer therapy. On the basis of these results, we conclude that Eg5 normally generates forces that oppose axonal growth, presumably by partially suppressing the forward advance of microtubules. We speculate that local regulation of Eg5 could be a means by which neurons coordinate rapid bursts of axonal growth with appropriate environmental cues. The comparatively modest toxic effects on the neurons over time are a hopeful sign for clinicians interested in using anti-Eg5 drugs for cancer therapy.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.