Neuronal polarization: the cytoskeleton leads the way

Dev Neurobiol. 2011 Jun;71(6):430-44. doi: 10.1002/dneu.20849.


The morphology of cells is key to their function. Neurons extend a long axon and several shorter dendrites to transmit signals in the nervous system. This process of neuronal polarization is driven by the cytoskeleton. The first and decisive event during neuronal polarization is the specification of the axon. Distinct cytoskeletal dynamics and organization of the cytoskeleton determine the future axon while the other neurites become dendrites. Here, we will review how the cytoskeleton and its effectors drive axon specification and neuronal polarization. First, the role of the actin cytoskeleton and microtubules in axon specification will be presented. Then, we will discuss the role of the centrosome in axon determination as well as how microtubules are generated in axons and dendrites. Finally, we will discuss potential mechanisms leading to axon specification, such as positive feedback loops that could be a coordinated interaction between actin and microtubules. Together, this review will present the recent advances on the role of the microtubules and the actin cytoskeleton during neuronal polarization. We will pinpoint the upcoming challenges to gain a better understanding of neuronal polarization on a fundamental intracellular level. Finally, we will outline how reactivation of the intrinsic polarization program may help to induce axon regeneration after CNS injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Actins / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Cell Polarity / physiology*
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Microtubules / physiology*
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure


  • Actins