We have examined the movements, composition, and cellular origin of phase-dense varicosities in cultures of chick sympathetic and sensory neurons. These organelles are variable in diameter (typically between 0.2 and 2 microns) and undergo saltatory movements both towards and away from the neuronal cell body. Their mean velocities vary inversely with the size of the organelle and are greater in the retrograde than the anterograde direction. Organelles stain with the lipophilic dye 1, 1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethyl-indocarbocyanine and with antibodies to cytoskeletal components. In cultures double-stained with antibodies to alpha-tubulin and 70-kD neurofilament protein (NF-L), approximately 40% of the organelles stain for tubulin, 30% stain for NF-L, 10% stain for both tubulin and NF-L, and 40% show no staining with either antibody. The association of cytoskeletal proteins with the organelles shows that these proteins are able to move by a form of rapid axonal transport. Under most culture conditions the predominant direction of movement is towards the cell body, suggesting that the organelles are produced at or near the growth cone. Retrograde movements continue in culture medium lacking protein or high molecular mass components and increase under conditions in which the advance of the growth cone is arrested. There is a fourfold increase in the number of organelles moving retrogradely in neurites that encounter a substratum-associated barrier to elongation; retrograde movements increase similarly in cultures exposed to cytochalasin at levels known to block growth cone advance. No previously described organelle shows behavior coordinated with axonal growth in this way. We propose that the organelles contain membrane and cytoskeletal components that have been delivered to the growth cone, by slow or fast anterograde transport, in excess of the amounts required to synthesize more axon. In view of their rapid mobility and variable contents, we suggest that they be called "neuronal parcels."

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