Despite the great diversity of shapes exhibited by different classes of nerve cells, nearly all neurons share one feature in that they have a single axon and several dendrites. The two types of processes differ in their morphology, in their rate of growth, in the macromolecular composition of their cytoskeletons and surface membranes, and in their synaptic polarity 1,2. When hippocampal neurons are dissociated from the embryonic brain and cultured, they reproducibly establish this basic form with a single axon and several dendrites, despite the absence of any spatially organized environmental cues, and without the need for cell to cell contact3-7. We have cut the axons of young hippocampal neurons within a day of their development: in some cases the initial axon regenerated, but more frequently one of the other processes, which if undisturbed would have become a dendrite, instead became the axon. Frequently the stump of the original axon persisted following the transection and subsequently became a dendrite. Evidently the neuronal processes that first develop in culture have the capacity to form either axons or dendrites. The acquisition of axonal characteristics by one neuronal process apparently inhibits the others from becoming axons, so they subsequently become dendrites.
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