Mechanisms for the maintenance and eventual degradation of neurofilament proteins in the distal segments of severed goldfish Mauthner axons
Cellular mechanisms that might affect the degradation of neurofilament proteins (NFPs) were examined in the distal segments of severed goldfish Mauthner axons (M-axons), which do not degenerate for more than 2 months after severance. Calpain levels, as determined by reactivity to a polyclonal antibody, remained constant for 80 d postseverance in distal segments of M-axons and then declined from 80 to 85 d postseverance. Calpain activity in rat brain, as determined by a spectrophotometric assay, was much higher than calpain activity in control and severed goldfish brain, spinal cord, muscle, or M-axons. Calpain activity was extremely low in M-axons compared with that in all other tissues and remained low for up to 80 d postseverance in distal segments of M-axons. Phosphorylated NFPs, as determined by Stains-All treatment of SDS gels, were maintained for up to 72 d postseverance and then decreased noticeably at 75 d postseverance when NFP breakdown products appeared on silver-stained gels. By 85 d postseverance, phosphorylated NFPs no longer were detected, and NFP breakdown products were the most prominent bands on silver-stained gels. These results suggest that the distal segments of M-axons survive for months after severance, because NFPs are maintained in a phosphorylated state that stabilizes and protects NFPs from degradation by low levels of calpain activity in the M-axon; the distal segments of severed M-axons degenerate eventually when NFPs no longer are maintained in a phosphorylated state and become susceptible to degradation, possibly by low levels of calpain activity in the M-axon.