Axons from rats treated with the neurotoxic agent beta,beta'-iminodipropionitrile (IDPN) were examined by quick-freeze, deep-etch electron microscopy. Microtubules formed bundles in the central region of the axons, whereas neurofilaments were segregated to the periphery. Most membrane-bounded organelles, presumably including those involved in rapid axonal transport, were associated with the microtubule domain. The high resolution provided by quick-freeze, deep-etch electron microscopy revealed that the microtubules were coated with an extensive network of fine strands that served both to cross-link the microtubules and to interconnect them with the membrane-bounded organelles. The strands were decorated with granular materials and were irregular in dimension. They appeared either singly or as an extensive anastomosing network in fresh axons. The microtubule-associated strands were observed in fresh, saponin-extracted, or aldehyde-fixed tissue. To explore further the identity of the microtubule-associated strands, microtubules purified from brain tissue and containing the high molecular weight microtubule-associated proteins MAP 1 and MAP 2 were examined by quick-freeze, deep-etch electron microscopy. The purified microtubules were connected by a network of strands quite similar in appearance to those observed in the IDPN axons. Control microtubule preparations consisting only of tubulin and lacking the MAPs were devoid of associated strands. To learn which of the MAPs were present in the microtubule bundles in the axon, sections of axons from IDPN-treated rats were examined by immunofluorescence microscopy using antibodies to MAP 1A, MAP 1B, MAP 2, and tubulin. Anti-MAP 2 staining was only marginally detectable in the IDPN-treated axons, consistent with earlier observations. Anti-MAP 1A and anti-MAP 1B brightly stained the IDPN-treated axons, with the staining exclusively limited to the microtubule domains. Furthermore, thin section-immunoelectron microscopy using colloidal gold-labeled second antibodies revealed that both anti-MAP 1A and anti-MAP 1B stained fuzzy filamentous structures between microtubules. In view of earlier work indicating that rapid transport is associated with the microtubule domain in the IDPN-treated axon, it now appears that MAP 1A and MAP 1B may play a role in this process. We believe that MAP 1A and MAP 1B are major components of the microtubule-associated fibrillar matrix in the axon.

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