Intramembrane particles (IMPs) of the plasmalemma of mature, synapsing neurons are evenly distributed along the axon shaft. In contrast, IMPs of growing olfactory axons form density gradients: IMP density decreases with increasing distance from the perikarya, with a slope that depends upon IMP size (Small, R., and K. H. Pfenninger, 1984, J. Cell Biol., 98: 1422-1433). These IMP density gradients resemble Gaussian tails, but they are much more accurately described by the equations formulated for diffusion in a system with a moving boundary (a Stefan Problem), using constants that are dependent upon IMP size. The resulting model predicts a shallow, nearly linear IMP density profile at early stages of growth. Later, this profile becomes gradually transformed into a steep nonlinear gradient as axon elongation proceeds. This prediction is borne out by the experimental evidence. The diffusion coefficients calculated from this model range from 0.5 to 1.8 X 10(-7) cm2/s for IMPs between 14.8 and 3.6 nm, respectively. These diffusion coefficients are linearly dependent upon the inverse IMP diameter in accordance with the Stokes-Einstein relationship. The measured viscosity is approximately 7 centipoise. Our findings indicate (a) that most IMPs in growing axons reach distal locations by lateral diffusion in the plasma membrane, (b) that IMPs--or complexes of integral membrane proteins--can diffuse at considerably higher rates than previously reported for iso-concentration systems, and (c) that the laws of diffusion determined for macroscopic systems are applicable to the submicroscopic membrane system.
Components of the plasma membrane of growing axons. II. Diffusion of membrane protein complexes.
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R K Small, M Blank, R Ghez, K H Pfenninger; Components of the plasma membrane of growing axons. II. Diffusion of membrane protein complexes.. J Cell Biol 1 April 1984; 98 (4): 1434–1443. doi: https://doi.org/10.1083/jcb.98.4.1434
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