The intraaxonal distribution of labeled glycoproteins in the regenerating hypoglossal nerve of the rabbit was studied by use of quantitative electron microscope autoradiography. 9 d after nerve crush, glycoproteins were labeled by the administration of [3H]fucose to the medulla. The distribution of transported 3H-labeled glycoproteins was determined 18 h later in segments of the regenerating nerve and in the contralateral, intact nerve. At the regenerating tip, the distribution was determined both in growth cones and in non-growth cone axons, 6 and 18 h after labeling. The distribution within the non-growth cone axons of the tips was quite different at 6 and 18 h. At 6 h, the axolemma region contained < 10% of the radioactivity; at 18 h, it contained virtually all the radioactivity. In contrast, the distribution within the growth cones was similar at both time intervals, with 30% of the radioactivity over the axolemmal region. Additional segments of the regenerating nerve also showed a preferential labeling of the axolemmal region. In the intact nerve, 3H-labeled glycoproteins were uniformly distributed. These results suggest that: (a) in this system the labeled glycoproteins reaching the tip of the regenerating axons are inserted into the axolemma between 6 and 18 h after leaving the neuronal perikaryon; (b) at the times studied, there is a fairly constant ratio between glycoproteins reaching the growth cone through axoplasmic transport and glycoproteins inserted into the growth cone axolemma; (c) the axolemma elongates by continuous insertion of membrane precursors at the growth cone; the growth cone then advances, leaving behind an immature axon with a newly formed axolemma; and (d) glycoproteins are preferentially inserted into the axolemma along the entire regenerating axon.

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