It has recently been shown that high molecular weight microtubule-associated proteins (HMWP) in the brain are present in dendrites and are absent from axons (Matus et al., 1981, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 78:3010-3014). In this study we followed the appearance of both HMWP and tubulin in the neonatal rat cerebellum by immunoperoxidase staining, concentrating particularly on comparing Purkinje cell dendrites with adjacent granule cell axons. In the axons both immunohistochemically demonstrable tubulin and structurally distinct microtubules are present at all stages of development. By contrast the Purkinje cell dendrites contain better neither tubulin nor microtubules at early stages of their growth. However, immunoperoxidase staining showed that these developing dendrites are rich in HMWP which are particularly concentrated in the dendritic distal regions. HMWP are also present as patches beneath the surface membrane of the cell body before the emergence of dendrites. Based on this data and the well-documented ability of HMWP to promote microtubule assembly, we propose the hypothesis that during the initial phase of Purkinje neuron differentiation HMWP form part of a specialized cytoskeletal structure which acts as a specifier for the development of dendrites as opposed to axons.

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