Live-cell imaging of retrograde transport initiation in primary neurons

Methods Cell Biol. 2016;131:269-76. doi: 10.1016/bs.mcb.2015.06.002. Epub 2015 Sep 2.


Axonal transport is an essential function in neurons, as mutations in either motor proteins or their adaptors cause neurodegeneration. While some mutations cause a complete block in axonal transport, other mutations affect transport more subtly. This is especially true of mutations identified in human patients, many of which impair but do not block motor function in the cell. Dissecting the pathogenic mechanisms of these more subtle mutations requires assays that can tease apart the distinct phases of axonal transport, including transport initiation, sustained/regulated motility, and cargo-specific sorting or delivery. Here, we describe a live-cell photobleaching assay to assess retrograde flux from the distal axon tip, a measure for distal transport initiation. We have previously used this method to show that the CAP-Gly domain of DCTN1 is required for efficient retrograde transport initiation in the distal axon, but it is not required to maintain retrograde flux along the mid-axon (Moughamian & Holzbaur, 2012). This approach has allowed us to examine the effects of disease-causing mutations in the axonal transport machinery, and in combination with other assays, will be useful in determining the mechanisms and regulation of axonal transport in normal and diseased conditions.

Keywords: Axonal transport; DCTN1; Dynactin; Dynein; LAMP-1; Live-cell imaging; Microtubule-based transport; Neurodegeneration; Photobleaching.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport / physiology*
  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytoplasmic Dyneins / genetics
  • Cytoplasmic Dyneins / metabolism*
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Kymography / methods*
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Lysosome-Associated Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Mice
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Photobleaching
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Protein Transport / physiology*


  • Lamp1 protein, mouse
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Lysosome-Associated Membrane Glycoproteins
  • red fluorescent protein
  • Cytoplasmic Dyneins