Neurite formation by dissociated chick sympathetic neurons in vitro begins when one of the many filopodia that emanate from the cell body of a neuron is invaded by cytoplasm containing microtubules and other components of axoplasm (Smith, 1994). This study was undertaken to determine whether this process depends on assembly of microtubules. To inhibit microtubule assembly, neurons were grown in medium containing nocodazole or colchicine. In one series of experiments, neurons first were exposed to the microtubule-stabilizing drug, taxol, so that existing microtubules would remain intact while assembly of new microtubules was inhibited. The ability of neurons to form neurites was assessed by time-lapse video microscopy. Neurons subsequently were stained with antibodies against the tyrosinated and acetylated forms of alpha-tubulin and examined by laser confocal microscopy to visualize microtubules. Neurons were able to form short processes despite inhibition of microtubule assembly and they did so in a way that closely resembled process formation in control medium. Processes formed by neurons that had not been pretreated with taxol were devoid of microtubules. However, microtubules were present in processes of taxol-pretreated neurons. These microtubules contained acetylated alpha-tubulin, as is typical of stable microtubules, but not tyrosinated alpha-tubulin, the form present in recently assembled microtubules. These findings show that the initial steps in neurite formation do not depend on microtubule assembly and suggest that microtubules assembled in the cell body can be translocated into developing neurites as they emerge. The results are compatible with models of neurite formation which postulate that cytoplasm from the cell body is transported into filopodia by actomyosin-based motility mechanisms.

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