Native microtubules prepared from extruded and dissociated axoplasm have been observed to transport organelles and vesicles unidirectionally in fresh preparations and more slowly and bidirectionally in older preparations. Both endogenous and exogenous (fluorescent polystyrene) particles in rapid Brownian motion alight on and adhere to microtubules and are transported along them. Particles can switch from one intersecting microtubule to another and move in either direction. Microtubular segments 1 to 30 microns long, produced by gentle homogenization, glide over glass surfaces for hundreds of micrometers in straight lines unless acted upon by obstacles. While gliding they transport particles either in the same (forward) direction and/or in the backward direction. Particle movement and gliding of microtubule segments require ATP and are insensitive to taxol (30 microM). It appears, therefore, that the mechanisms producing the motive force are very closely associated with the native microtubule itself or with its associated proteins. Although these movements appear irreconcilable with several current theories of fast axoplasmic transport, in this article we propose two models that might explain the observed phenomena and, by extension, the process of fast axoplasmic transport itself. The findings presented and the possible mechanisms proposed for fast axoplasmic transport have potential applications across the spectrum of microtubule-based motility processes.

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