Tubulin transport in neurons

J Cell Biol. 1996 Jun;133(6):1355-66. doi: 10.1083/jcb.133.6.1355.


A question of broad importance in cellular neurobiology has been, how is microtubule cytoskeleton of the axon organized? It is of particular interest because of the history of conflicting results concerning the form in which tubulin is transported in the axon. While many studies indicate a stationary nature of axonal microtubules, a recent series of experiments reports that microtubules are recruited into axons of neurons grown in the presence of a microtubule-inhibitor, vinblastine (Baas, P.W., and F.J. Ahmad. 1993.J. Cell Biol. 120:1427-1437: Ahmad F.J., and P.W. Baas. 1995. J. Cell Sci, 108:2761-2769; Sharp, D.J., W. Yu, and P.W. Baas. 1995. J. Cell Biol, 130:93-103; Yu, W., and P.W. Baas. 1995. J. Neurosci. 15:6827-6833.). Since vinblastine stabilizes bulk microtubule-dynamics in vitro, it was concluded that preformed microtubules moved into newly grown axons. By visualizing the polymerization of injected fluorescent tubulin, we show that substantial microtubule polymerization occurs in neurons grown at reported vinblastine concentrations. Vinblastine inhibits, in a concentration-dependent manner, both neurite outgrowth and microtubule assembly. More importantly, the neuron growth conditions of low vinblastine concentration allowed us to visualize the footprints of the tubulin wave as it polymerized and depolymerized during its slow axonal transport. In contrast, depolymerization resistant fluorescent microtubules did not move when injected in neurons. We show that tubulin subunits, not microtubules, are the primary form of tubulin transport in neurons.

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*
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Microinjections
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Neurites / drug effects
  • Polymers
  • Rats
  • Rhodamines
  • Succinimides
  • Tubulin / analysis*
  • Tubulin / chemistry
  • Tubulin / metabolism*
  • Vinblastine / pharmacology


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Polymers
  • Rhodamines
  • Succinimides
  • Tubulin
  • tetramethylrhodamine succinimidyl ester
  • Vinblastine