The injection of [2,3-3H]N-succinimidyl propionate ([3H]N-SP) into the rat sciatic nerve was used to covalently label both intra- and extra-axonal proteins. While extra-axonal proteins (e.g., myelin proteins) remained in the injection site, the intra-axonal proteins were transported in both the anterograde and retrograde directions. The mobile labeled proteins appeared to move by normal axonal transport processes because: (a) autoradiographic studies showed that they were localized exclusively within the axon at considerable distances from the injection site, (b) specific and identifiable proteins (by SDS gel electrophoresis) moved at expected rates in the anterograde direction, and (c) an entirely different profile of proteins moved in the anterograde vs. retrograde direction. This novel experimental approach to axonal transport, which is independent of de novo protein synthesis, provided a unique view of slow anterograde transport, and particularly of retrograde transport of endogenous proteins. A large quantity of a 68,000 mol wt proteins, moving at approximately 3-6 mm/day, dominated the retograde transport profile. [3H]N-SP, therefore, represents a new and unique "vital stain" which may find many applications in cell biology.

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