The polarized domains of myelinated axons are specifically organized to maximize the efficiency of saltatory conduction. The paranodal region is directly adjacent to the node of Ranvier and contains specialized septate-like junctions that provide adhesion between axons and glial cells and that constitute a lateral diffusion barrier for nodal components. To complement and extend earlier studies on the peripheral nervous system, electron tomography was used to image paranodal regions from the central nervous system (CNS). Our three-dimensional reconstructions revealed short filamentous linkers running directly from the septate-like junctions to neurofilaments, microfilaments, and organelles within the axon. The intercellular spacing between axons and glia was measured to be 7.4 ± 0.6 nm, over twice the value previously reported in the literature (2.5-3.0 nm). Averaging of individual junctions revealed a bifurcated structure in the intercellular space that is consistent with a dimeric complex of cell adhesion molecules composing the septate-like junction. Taken together, these findings provide new insight into the structural organization of CNS paranodes and suggest that, in addition to providing axo-glial adhesion, cytoskeletal linkage to the septate-like junctions may be required to maintain axonal domains and to regulate organelle transport in myelinated axons.
Copyright © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.