In an effort to understand the regulation of the transition of a mature neuron to the growth, or regenerating, state we have analyzed the composition of the axonally transported proteins in the retinal ganglion cells of the toad Bufo marinus after inducing axon regeneration by crushing the optic nerve. At increasing intervals after axotomy, we labeled the retinal ganglion cells with [35S]methionine and subsequently analyzed the labeled transported polypeptides in the crushed optic nerve by means of one- and two-dimensional electrophoretic techniques. The most significant conclusion from these experiments is that, while the transition from the mature to the regenerating state does not require a gross qualitative alteration in the composition of axonally transported proteins, the relative labeling of a small subset of rapidly transported proteins is altered dramatically (changes of more than 20-fold) and reproducibly (more than 30 animals) by axotomy. One of these growth-associated proteins (GAPs) was soluble in an aqueous buffer, while three were associated with a crude membrane fraction. The labeling of all three of the membrane-associated GAPs increased during the first 8 d after axotomy, and they continued to be labeled for at least 4 wk. The modulation of these proteins after axotomy is consistent with the possibility that they are involve in growth-specific functions and that the altered expression of a small number of genes is a crucial regulatory event in the transition of a mature neuron to a growth state. In addition to these selective changes in rapidly transported proteins, we observed the following more general metabolic correlates of the regeneration process: The total radioactive label associated with the most rapidly transported proteins (groups I and II) increased three to fourfold during the first 8 d after the nerve was crushed, while the total label associated with more slowly moving proteins (group IV) increased about 10-fold during this same period. Among these more slowly transported polypeptides, five were observed whose labeling increased much more than the average. Three of these five polypeptides resemble actin and alpha- and beta-tubulin in their electrophoretic properties.

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