The carboxy-terminal tail domains of neurofilament subunits neurofilament NF-M and NF-H have been postulated to be responsible for the modulation of axonal caliber. To test how subunit composition affects caliber, transgenic mice were generated to increase axonal NF-M. Total neurofilament subunit content in motor and sensory axons remained essentially unchanged, but increases in NF-M were offset by proportionate decreases in both NF-H and axonal cross-sectional area. Increase in NF-M did not affect the level of phosphorylation of NF-H. This indicates that (a) in vivo NF-H and NF-M compete either for coassembly with a limiting amount of NF-L or as substrates for axonal transport, and (b) NF-H abundance is a primary determinant of axonal caliber. Despite inhibition of radial growth, increase in NF-M and reduction in axonal NF-H did not affect nearest neighbor spacing between neurofilaments, indicating that cross-bridging between nearest neighbors does not play a crucial role in radial growth. Increase in NF-M did not result in an overt phenotype or neuronal loss, although filamentous swellings in perikarya and proximal axons of motor neurons were frequently found.

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