In mature neurons, tau is abundant in axons, whereas microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP2) and MAP2C are specifically localized in dendrites. Known mechanisms involved in the compartmentalization of these cytoskeletal proteins include the differential localization of mRNA (MAP2 mRNA in dendrites, MAP2C mRNA in cell body, and Tau mRNA in proximal axon revealed by in situ hybridization) (Garner, C.C., R.P. Tucker, and A. Matus. 1988. Nature (Lond.). 336:674-677; Litman, P., J. Barg, L. Rindzooski, and I. Ginzburg. 1993. Neuron. 10:627-638), suppressed transit of MAP2 into axons (revealed by cDNA transfection into neurons) (Kanai, Y., and N. Hirokawa. 1995. Neuron. 14:421-432), and differential turnover of MAP2 in axons vs dendrites (Okabe, S., and N. Hirokawa. 1989. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 86:4127-4131). To investigate whether differential turnover of MAPs contributes to localization of other major MAPs in general, we microinjected biotinylated tau, MAP2C, or MAP2 into mature spinal cord neurons in culture (approximately 3 wk) and then analyzed their fates by antibiotin immunocytochemistry. Initially, each was detected in axons and dendrites, although tau persisted only in axons, whereas MAP2C and MAP2 were restricted to cell bodies and dendrites. Injected MAP2C and MAP2 bound to dendritic microtubules more firmly than to microtubules in axons, while injected tau bound to axonal microtubules more firmly than to microtubules in dendrites. Thus, beyond contributions from mRNA localization and selective axonal transport, compartmentalization of each of the three major MAPs occurs through local differential turnover.

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