Early posttranslational modifications of the three neurofilament subunits in mouse retinal ganglion cells: neuronal sites and time course in relation to subunit polymerization and axonal transport

Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 1989 Mar;5(2):93-108. doi: 10.1016/0169-328x(89)90001-6.


We have characterized stages in the posttranslational processing of the three neurofilament subunits, High (NF-H), Middle (NF-M), and Low (NF-L), in retinal ganglion cells in vivo during the interval between synthesis in cell bodies within the retina and appearance of these polypeptides in axons at the level of the optic nerve (optic axons). Neurofilament proteins pulse-labeled by injecting mice intravitreally with [35S]methionine or [32P]orthophosphate, were isolated from Triton-soluble and Triton-insoluble fractions of the retina or optic axons by immunoprecipitation or immunoaffinity chromatography. Within 2 h after [35S]methionine injection, the retina contained neurofilament-immunoreactive radiolabeled proteins with apparent molecular weights of 160, 139, and 70 kDa, which co-migrated with subunits of axonal neurofilaments that were dephosphorylated in vitro with alkaline phosphatase. The two larger polypeptides were not labeled with [32P]orthophosphate, indicating that they were relatively unmodified forms of NF-H and NF-M. About 75% of the subunits were Triton-insoluble by 2 h after isotope injection, and this percentage increased to 98% by 6 h. Labeled neurofilament polypeptides appeared in optic axons as early as 2 h after injection. These subunits exhibited apparent molecular weights of 160, 139, and 70 kDa and were Triton-insoluble. The time of appearance of fully modified polypeptide forms differed for each subunit (2 h for NF-L, 6-18 h for NF-M, 18-24 h for NF-H) and was preceded by the transient appearance of intermediate forms. The modified radiolabeled subunits in optic axons 3 days after synthesis were heavily labeled with [32P]orthophosphate and exhibited the same apparent molecular weights as subunits of axonal neurofilaments (70 kDa, 145 and 140 kDa, and 195-210 kDa, respectively). Whole mounts of retina immunostained with monoclonal antibodies against NF-H in different states of phosphorylation demonstrated a transition from non-phosphorylated neurofilaments to predominantly phosphorylated ones within a region of the axon between 200 and 1000 microns downstream from the cell body. These experiments demonstrate that the addition of most phosphate groups to NF-M and NF-H takes place within a proximal region of the axon. The rapid appearance of modified forms of NF-L after synthesis may imply that processing of this subunit occurs at least partly in the cell body. The presence of a substantial pool of Triton-insoluble, unmodified subunits early after synthesis indicates that the heaviest incorporation of phosphate occurs after neurofilament proteins are polymerized.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport*
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Molecular Weight
  • Neurofilament Proteins
  • Optic Nerve / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational*
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / metabolism*


  • Intermediate Filament Proteins
  • Neurofilament Proteins