Have you ever driven in the wrong direction on a one-way street. It feels as wrong as a hamburger smoothie and you feel overwhelmed with panic. It’s important to go the right direction on one-way streets, and a neuron understands this. Neurons are polarized so that signals can come and go in the right direction. Today’s stunning image is from a paper describing the cytoskeletal architecture within a region of a neuron that’s important for polarity.
The axon initial segment (AIS) is the part of an axon closest to the neuron’s cell body, and is the site of action potential initiation. The AIS is crucial for the neuron’s polarity, which facilitates the direction of incoming signals (coming in from dendrites) and outgoing information (out along the axon to the synapse). A recent study from Jones and colleagues investigated how the AIS maintains neuronal polarity. Jones and colleagues used platinum replica electron microscopy (PREM) to image the cytoskeleton in hippocampal neurons, and found that it begins with a bundle of microtubules. A dense fibrillar–globular coat covers this microtubule bundle and contains many proteins as well as actin filaments. Actin filaments are found in two sparse populations—either stable, short filaments or dynamic, long filaments. Jones and colleagues propose that the dynamic actin filaments play a role in the AIS coat, while the stable filaments may play a structural role in the AIS diffusion barrier. This diffusion barrier prevents the mixing of plasma membrane components from dendrites and axons, an important factor in maintaining polarity. The image above shows microtubules within the AIS, with thin fibrils (arrows) and a fibrillar coat over the microtubules (arrowheads) visible.
Jones, S., Korobova, F., & Svitkina, T. (2014). Axon initial segment cytoskeleton comprises a multiprotein submembranous coat containing sparse actin filaments originally published in the Journal of Cell Biology, 205 (1), 67-81 DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201401045