A role of microtubules during the formation of cell processes in neuronal and non-neuronal cells

Cell Tissue Res. 1998 Feb;291(2):163-74. doi: 10.1007/s004410050988.


This review discusses the role of microtubules in the formation of processes from neuronal and non-neuronal cells. In elongating axons of the neuron, tubulin molecules are transported toward the end of pre-existing microtubules, which may be nucleated at the centrosome, via a mechanism called slow axonal flow. Two different hypotheses are presented to explain this mechanism; the transport of soluble monomers and/or oligomers versus the transport of polymerized microtubules. The majority of tubulin seems to be transported as small oligomers as shown by the data presented so far. Alternatively, an active transport of polymerized microtubules driven by microtubule-based motor proteins is postulated as being responsible for the non-uniform polarity of microtubule bundles in dendrites of the neuron. Microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) play a crucial role in stabilizing the microtubular arrays, whereas the non-uniform polarity of microtubules may be established with the aid of microtubule-based motor proteins. The signals activating centrosomal proteins and MAPs, resulting in process formation, include phosphorylation and dephosphorylation of these proteins. Not only neuronal cells, but also renal glomerular podocytes develop prominent cell processes equipped with well-organized microtubular cytoskeletons, and intermediate and actin filaments. A novel cell culture system for podocytes, in which process formation can be induced, should provide further evidence that microtubules play a pivotal role in process formation of non-neuronal cells.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport
  • CHO Cells / metabolism
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Dendrites / metabolism
  • Kidney Glomerulus / cytology*
  • Microinjections
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Microtubules / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Organ Specificity
  • PC12 Cells
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Rats
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tubulin / metabolism


  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Tubulin