Little is known about mechanical regulation of morphological and functional polarity of central neurons. In this study, we report that mechanical stress specifically induces varicosities in the axons but not the dendrites of central neurons by activating TRPV4, a Ca2+/Na+-permeable mechanosensitive channel. This process is unexpectedly rapid and reversible, consistent with the formation of axonal varicosities in vivo induced by mechanical impact in a mouse model of mild traumatic brain injury. In contrast, prolonged stimulation of glutamate receptors induces varicosities in dendrites but not in axons. We further show that axonal varicosities are induced by persistent Ca2+ increase, disassembled microtubules (MTs), and subsequently reversible disruption of axonal transport, and are regulated by stable tubulin-only polypeptide, an MT-associated protein. Finally, axonal varicosity initiation can trigger action potentials to antidromically propagate to the soma in retrograde signaling. Therefore, our study demonstrates a new feature of neuronal polarity: axons and dendrites preferentially respond to physical and chemical stresses, respectively.
© 2017 Gu et al.