Neurons are highly polarized cells composed of dendrites, cell bodies, and long axons. Because of the lack of protein synthesis machinery in axons, materials required in axons and synapses have to be transported down the axons after synthesis in the cell body. Fast anterograde transport conveys different kinds of membranous organelles such as mitochondria and precursors of synaptic vesicles and axonal membranes, while organelles such as endosomes and autophagic prelysosomal organelles are conveyed retrogradely. Although kinesin and dynein have been identified as good candidates for microtubule-based anterograde and retrograde transporters, respectively, the existence of other motors for performing these complex axonal transports seems quite likely. Here we characterized a new member of the kinesin super-family, KIF3A (50-nm rod with globular head and tail), and found that it is localized in neurons, associated with membrane organelle fractions, and accumulates with anterogradely moving membrane organelles after ligation of peripheral nerves. Furthermore, native KIF3A (a complex of 80/85 KIF3A heavy chain and a 95-kD polypeptide) revealed microtubule gliding activity and baculovirus-expressed KIF3A heavy chain demonstrated microtubule plus end-directed (anterograde) motility in vitro. These findings strongly suggest that KIF3A is a new motor protein for the anterograde fast axonal transport.

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