The establishment of neural circuits requires both stable and plastic properties in the neuronal cytoskeleton. In this study we show that properties of stability and lability reside in microtubules and these are governed by cellular differentiation and intracellular location. After culture for 3, 7, and 14 d in nerve growth factor-containing medium, PC-12 cells were microinjected with X-rhodamine-labeled tubulin. 8-24 h later, cells were photobleached with a laser microbeam at the cell body, neurite shaft, and growth cone. Replacement of fluorescence in bleached zones was monitored by digital video microscopy. In 3-d cultures, fluorescence recovery in all regions occurred by 26 +/- 17 min. Similarly, in older cultures, complete fluorescence recovery at the cell body and growth cone occurred by 10-30 min. However, in neurite shafts, fluorescence recovery was markedly slower (71 +/- 48 min for 7-d and 201 +/- 94 min for 14-d cultures). This progressive increase in the stability of microtubules in the neurite shafts correlated with an increase of acetylated microtubules. Acetylated microtubules were present specifically in the neurite shaft and not in the regions of fast microtubule turnover, the cell body and growth cone. During the recovery of fluorescence, bleached zones did not move with respect to the cell body. We conclude that the microtubule component of the neuronal cytoskeleton is differentially dynamic but stationary.

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