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A functional barrier to movement of lipids in polarized neurons


IN polarized neurons, axons and dendrites perform different functions, which are reflected in their different molecular organization. Studies on the sorting of viral and endogenous glycoproteins in epithelial cells and hippocampal neurons suggest that there may be similarities in the mechanism of sorting in these two cell types1–3. The mechanisms that maintain the distinct composition of the two plasma membrane domains in these two cell types must, however, be different. We have proposed the existence of a functional barrier at the axonal hillock/initial segment which prevents the intermixing of membrane constituents1,2. Here we test this hypothesis by fusing liposomes containing fluorescent phospholipids into the plasma membrane of polarized hippocampal cells in culture. Fusion was induced by lowering the pH and mediated by influenza virus haemagglutinin expressed on the axonal surface of neurons infected with fowl plague virus. Labelling was found exclusively on axons after fusion. Although the fused lipids were mobile on the axonal membrane, no labelling was detected on the cell body and dendritic surfaces. These results suggest that there is a diffusion barrier at the axonal hillock/initial segment which maintains the compositional differences between the axonal and somatodendritic domains.

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Kobayashi, T., Storrie, B., Simons, K. et al. A functional barrier to movement of lipids in polarized neurons. Nature 359, 647–650 (1992).

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