We have examined the distribution of microtubule-associated protein 2 in embryonic rat sympathetic neurons grown under culture conditions that alter morphological development. Cultures were established in serum-free medium. After 8 days some were transferred to a serum-containing medium, which promotes dendritic development. Sister cultures were maintained in serum-free medium, which inhibits dendritic growth but permits normal axonal development. After growth for 2-6 weeks in serum-containing medium, sympathetic neurons were multipolar, with short, tapering dendrites and long, thin axons. Intense immunoreactivity for microtubule-associated protein 2 was observed in the somata and dendrites of all neurons, but there was little or no staining of the network of axonal processes that ran between cell somata. When the morphology of individual cells was assessed by injection of fluorescent dye before immunostaining, we found that staining for microtubule-associated protein 2 extended to the distal tips of the dendrites while the axon was essentially unstained, even in its proximal portion. Neurons from sister cultures that were not exposed to serum were usually unipolar, having only an axon. Under these conditions microtubule-associated protein 2 was also expressed, but its distribution was altered: intense immunostaining for microtubule-associated protein 2 was present in axons as well as somata. Staining in axons could sometimes be traced for several millimeters, but, since unstained segments of axons were also common, microtubule-associated protein 2 probably was not present throughout the entire axonal arborization. These results show that the expression of microtubule-associated protein 2 is not of itself sufficient to induce the formation of dendrites. Despite the association of microtubule-associated protein 2 with the axonal cytoskeleton, the light microscopic morphology of the axons was not obviously altered.
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