Brain-derived neurotrophic factor/neurotrophin 3 regulate axon initial segment location and affect neuronal excitability in cultured hippocampal neurons

J Neurochem. 2017 Jul;142(2):260-271. doi: 10.1111/jnc.14050. Epub 2017 May 26.


Plasticity of the axon initial segment (AIS) has aroused great interest in recent years because it regulates action potential initiation and neuronal excitability. AIS plasticity manifests as modulation of ion channels or variation in AIS structure. However, the mechanisms underlying structural plasticity of the AIS are not well understood. Here, we combined immunofluorescence, patch-clamp recordings, and pharmacological methods in cultured hippocampal neurons to investigate the factors participating in AIS structural plasticity during development. With lowered neuronal density, the distance between the AIS and the soma increased, while neuronal excitability decreased, as shown by the increased action potential threshold and current threshold for firing an action potential. This variation in the location of the AIS was associated with cellular secretory substances, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neurotrophin 3 (NT3). Indeed, blocking BDNF and NT3 with TrkB-Fc eliminated the effect of conditioned medium collected from high-density cultures on AIS relocation. Elevating the extracellular concentration of BDNF or NT3 promoted movement of the AIS proximally to the soma and increased neuronal excitability. Furthermore, knockdown of neurotrophin receptors TrkB and TrkC caused distal movement of the AIS. Our results demonstrate that BDNF and NT3 regulate AIS location and neuronal excitability. These regulatory functions of neurotrophic factors provide insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying AIS biology.

Keywords: BDNF; axon initial segment; hippocampal neuron; neuronal excitability; neuroplasticity; neurotrophins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Axon Initial Segment / metabolism*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism*
  • Neurotrophin 3 / metabolism*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Neurotrophin 3