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Keywords:

  • axon;
  • dendrite;
  • microtubule;
  • spine

Abstract

Thumbnail image of graphical abstract

Microtubules in neurons consist of highly dynamic regions as well as stable regions, some of which persist after bouts of severing as short mobile polymers. Concentrated at the plus ends of the highly dynamic regions are microtubule plus end tracking proteins called +TIPs that can interact with an array of other proteins and structures relevant to the plasticity of the neuron. It is also provocative to ponder that short mobile microtubules might similarly convey information with them as they transit within the neuron. Thus, beyond their known conventional functions in supporting neuronal architecture and organelle transport, microtubules may act as ‘information carriers’ in the neuron.

We review here the possibility of neuronal microtubules acting as “information carriers”, conveying biochemical factors within axons and dendrites. The more dynamic regions of longer microtubules associate at their plus ends with information-rich proteins called +TIPs that can be deposited or interact with other proteins or structures encountered by the microtubule as it assembles. Short stable microtubules that transit within the axon (and presumably the dendrite) may also serve as vehicles for the delivery of such information. Microtubules are broadly known for their roles in architecture and transport, and we posit that such a role as information carriers may be a third major role for microtubules in neurons.