The endocytic pathways from the axonal and dendritic surfaces of cultured polarized hippocampal neurons were examined. The dendrites and cell body contained extensive networks of tubular early endosomes which received endocytosed markers from the somatodendritic domain. In axons early endosomes were confined to presynaptic terminals and to varicosities. The somatodendritic but not the presynaptic early endosomes were labeled by internalized transferrin. In contrast to early endosomes, late endosomes and lysosomes were shown to be predominantly located in the cell body. Video microscopy was used to follow the transport of internalized markers from the periphery of axons and dendrites back to the cell body. Labeled structures in both domains moved unidirectionally by retrograde fast transport. Axonally transported organelles were sectioned for EM after video microscopic observation and shown to be large multivesicular body-like structures. Similar structures accumulated at the distal side of an axonal lesion. Multivesicular bodies therefore appear to be the major structures mediating transport of endocytosed markers between the nerve terminals and the cell body. Late endocytic structures were also shown to be highly mobile and were observed moving within the cell body and proximal dendritic segments. The results show that the organization of the endosomes differs in the axons and dendrites of cultured rat hippocampal neurons and that the different compartments or stages of the endocytic pathways can be resolved spatially.

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