Periodic actin structures in neuronal axons are required to maintain microtubules

Yue Qu, Ines Hahn, Stephen Webb, Simon Pearce, Andreas Prokop

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Axons are the cable-like neuronal processes wiring the nervous system. They contain parallel bundles of microtubules as structural backbones, surrounded by regularly-spaced actin rings termed the periodic membrane skeleton (PMS). Despite being an evolutionarily-conserved, ubiquitous, highly-ordered feature of axons, the function of PMS is unknown. Here we studied PMS abundance, organisation and function, combining versatile Drosophila genetics with super-resolution microscopy and various functional readouts. Analyses with 11 different actin regulators and 3 actin-targeting drugs suggest PMS to contain short actin filaments which are depolymerisation resistant and sensitive to spectrin, adducin and nucleator deficiency - consistent with microscopy-derived models proposing PMS as specialised cortical actin. Upon actin removal we observed gaps in microtubule bundles, reduced microtubule polymerisation and reduced axon numbers suggesting a role of PMS in microtubule organisation. These effects become strongly enhanced when carried out in neurons lacking the microtubule-stabilising protein Short stop (Shot). Combining the aforementioned actin manipulations with Shot deficiency revealed a close correlation between PMS abundance and microtubule regulation, consistent with a model in which PMS-dependent microtubule polymerisation contributes to their maintenance in axons. We discuss potential implications of this novel PMS function along axon shafts for axon maintenance and regeneration.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbermbc.E16-10-0727
Pages (from-to)296-308
JournalMolecular Biology of the Cell
Issue number296-308
Early online date23 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017


  • actin
  • axons
  • microtubules
  • Drosophila
  • development
  • ageing
  • cytoskeleton

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Dementia@Manchester


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