Cell polarization is critical for the correct functioning of many cell types, creating functional and morphological asymmetry in response to intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Neurons are a classical example of polarized cells, as they usually extend one long axon and short branched dendrites. The formation of such distinct cellular compartments (also known as neuronal polarization) ensures the proper development and physiology of the nervous system and is controlled by a complex set of signalling pathways able to integrate multiple polarity cues. Because polarization is at the basis of neuronal development, investigating the mechanisms responsible for this process is fundamental not only to understand how the nervous system develops, but also to devise therapeutic strategies for neuroregeneration. The last two decades have seen remarkable progress in understanding the molecular mechanisms responsible for mammalian neuronal polarization, primarily using cultures of rodent hippocampal neurons. More recent efforts have started to explore the role of such mechanisms in vivo. It has become clear that neuronal polarization relies on signalling networks and feedback mechanisms co-ordinating the actin and microtubule cytoskeleton and membrane traffic. The present chapter will highlight the role of key molecules involved in neuronal polarization, such as regulators of the actin/microtubule cytoskeleton and membrane traffic, polarity complexes and small GTPases.

You do not currently have access to this content.