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Open Access Research article

Characterization of the axon initial segment (AIS) of motor neurons and identification of a para-AIS and a juxtapara-AIS, organized by protein 4.1B

Amandine Duflocq123, Fabrice Chareyre4, Marco Giovannini4, François Couraud123 and Marc Davenne123*

Author affiliations

1 INSERM UMRS 952, 9 Quai St Bernard, F-75005, Paris, France

2 CNRS UMR 7224, 9 Quai St Bernard, F-75005, Paris, France

3 UPMC Univ Paris 06, F-75005, Paris, France

4 Division of Clinical and Translational Research, House Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA 90057, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Biology 2011, 9:66  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-9-66

Published: 29 September 2011

Abstract

Background

The axon initial segment (AIS) plays a crucial role: it is the site where neurons initiate their electrical outputs. Its composition in terms of voltage-gated sodium (Nav) and voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels, as well as its length and localization determine the neuron's spiking properties. Some neurons are able to modulate their AIS length or distance from the soma in order to adapt their excitability properties to their activity level. It is therefore crucial to characterize all these parameters and determine where the myelin sheath begins in order to assess a neuron's excitability properties and ability to display such plasticity mechanisms. If the myelin sheath starts immediately after the AIS, another question then arises as to how would the axon be organized at its first myelin attachment site; since AISs are different from nodes of Ranvier, would this particular axonal region resemble a hemi-node of Ranvier?

Results

We have characterized the AIS of mouse somatic motor neurons. In addition to constant determinants of excitability properties, we found heterogeneities, in terms of AIS localization and Nav composition. We also identified in all α motor neurons a hemi-node-type organization, with a contactin-associated protein (Caspr)+ paranode-type, as well as a Caspr2+ and Kv1+ juxtaparanode-type compartment, referred to as a para-AIS and a juxtapara (JXP)-AIS, adjacent to the AIS, where the myelin sheath begins. We found that Kv1 channels appear in the AIS, para-AIS and JXP-AIS concomitantly with myelination and are progressively excluded from the para-AIS. Their expression in the AIS and JXP-AIS is independent from transient axonal glycoprotein-1 (TAG-1)/Caspr2, in contrast to juxtaparanodes, and independent from PSD-93. Data from mice lacking the cytoskeletal linker protein 4.1B show that this protein is necessary to form the Caspr+ para-AIS barrier, ensuring the compartmentalization of Kv1 channels and the segregation of the AIS, para-AIS and JXP-AIS.

Conclusions

α Motor neurons have heterogeneous AISs, which underlie different spiking properties. However, they all have a para-AIS and a JXP-AIS contiguous to their AIS, where the myelin sheath begins, which might limit some AIS plasticity. Protein 4.1B plays a key role in ensuring the proper molecular compartmentalization of this hemi-node-type region.