Axonal transport in neurological disease

Ann Neurol. 1988 Jan;23(1):3-13. doi: 10.1002/ana.410230103.


The axonal transport systems have a wide variety of primary roles and secondary responses in neurological disease processes. Recent advances in understanding these roles have built on the increasingly detailed insights into the cell biology of the axon and its supporting cells. Fast transport is a microtubule-based system of bidirectional movement of membranous organelles; the mechanism of translocation of these organelles involves novel proteins, including the recently described protein of fast anterograde transport, kinesin. Slow transport conveys the major cytoskeletal elements, microtubules, and neurofilaments. Several types of structural changes in diseased nerve fibers are understood in terms of underlying transport abnormalities. Altered slow transport of neurofilaments produces changes in axonal caliber (swelling or atrophy) and is involved in some types of perikaryal neurofibrillary abnormality. Secondary changes in slow axonal transport--for example, the reordered synthesis and delivery of cytoskeletal proteins after axotomy--also can produce changes in axonal caliber. Secondary demyelination can be a prominent late consequence of a sustained alteration of neurofilament transport. Impaired fast transport is found in experimental models of distal axonal degeneration (dying back). Retrograde axonal transport provides access to the central nervous system for agents such as polio virus and tetanus toxin, as well as access for known and hypothetical trophic factors. Correlative studies of axonal transport, axonal morphometry, cytoskeletal ultrastructure, and molecular biology of cytoskeletal proteins are providing extremely detailed reconstructions of the pathogenesis of experimental models of neurological disorders. A major challenge lies in the extension of these approaches to clinical studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atrophy
  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Biological Transport / drug effects
  • Biological Transport, Active
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure
  • Demyelinating Diseases / metabolism
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology
  • Humans
  • Intermediate Filaments / metabolism
  • Intermediate Filaments / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Degeneration
  • Nervous System Diseases / metabolism*
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Neurotoxins / pharmacology
  • Time Factors


  • Neurotoxins