The insertion of axonally transported fucosyl glycoproteins into the axolemma of regenerating nerve sprouts was examined in rat sciatic motor axons at intervals after nerve crush. [(3)H]Fucose was injected into the lumbar ventral horns and the nerves were removed at intervals between 1 and 14 d after labeling. To follow the fate of the "pulse- labeled" glycoproteins, we examined the nerves by correlative radiometric and EM radioautographic approaches.
The results showed, first, that rapidly transported [(3)H]fucosyl glycoproteins were inserted into the axolemma of regenerating sprouts as well as parent axons. At 1 d after delivery, in addition to the substantial mobile fraction of radioactivity still undergoing bidirectional transport within the axon, a fraction of label was already associated with the axolemma. Insertion of labeled glycoproteins into the sprout axolemma appeared to occur all along the length of the regenerating sprouts, not just in sprout terminals. Once inserted, labeled glycoproteins did not undergo extensive redistribution, nor did they appear in sprout regions that formed (as a result of continued outgrowth) after their insertion. The amount of radioactivity in the regenerating nerves decreased with time, in part as a result of removal of transported label by retrograde transport. By 7-14 d after labeling, radioautography showed that almost all the remaining radioactivity was associated with axolemma. The regenerating sprouts retained increased amounts of labeled glycoproteins; 7 or 14 d after labeling, the regenerating sprouts had over twice as much of radioactivity as comparable lengths of control nerves or parent axons.
One role of fast axonal transport in nerve regeneration is the contribution to the regenerating sprout of glycoproteins inserted into the axolemma; these membrane elements are added both during longitudinal outgrowth and during lateral growth and maturation of the sprout.