An immunocytochemical analysis of the ontogeny of the microtubule-associated proteins MAP-2 and Tau in the nervous system of the rat

A. Ferreira*, J. Busciglio, A. Cáceres

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


The developmental distribution patterns of β-tubulin and the microtubule-associated proteins, MAP-2 and Tau, were studied by immunocytochemistry with monoclonal antibodies. The analysis of the in situ distribution of these proteins in embryonic brain tissue revealed intense immunoreactivity for β-tubulin in proliferative and migrating neuroblasts. On the contrary, no immunoreactivity for MAP-2 or Tau was detected in this neuroepithelium; specific immunostaining for these MAPs was only present in those neuroblasts which have reached their final destination within a developing brain area, and have initiated terminal differentiation, i.e. the sprouting of axons and dendrites. During the initial stages of neuritic outgrowth both MAPs were detected in the somatodendritic compartment of developing brain neurons; Tau was also present in axons. While the distribution of MAP-2 remained essentially the same throughout development, Tau was progressively lost from cell bodies and dendrites. This pattern of compartmentation was observed in pyramidal neurons of the cerebral cortex and hippocampus, as well as in cells of other brain regions (e.g. thalamus, hypothalamus, cerebral amygdala and tectum). It was not detected in cerebellar Purkinje cells which compartmentalize Tau to axons from the outset of neuritic differentiation, and in neurons of the Gasser ganglion which transiently express MAP-2 in axons. The expression and distribution of these MAPs was also analyzed in embryonic cerebellar and hippocampal pyramidal neurons grown in culture. Both MAPs were found in these cells as soon as 6 h after plating; they were also present in all of the neurites, axons and dendrites, that these cells extend after development in vitro for several days. With subsequence development (more than 4 days in vitro) MAP-2 was lost from axons, while Tau remained homogeneously distributed in both types of neurites. Taken collectively, the present results indicate that the development of the compartmentalized distribution of MAP-2 and Tau follows a complex pattern which is specific for each of these MAPs, and which varies as a function of the neuron type and the conditions under which the cell develops. In addition, the complex variations in the distribution of both MAPs during in situ and in vitro development make it unlikely that these proteins have a role in determining the fate of a neurite as an axon or a dendrite.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-31
Number of pages23
JournalDevelopmental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1987


  • Immunocytochemistry
  • MAP-2
  • Microtubule
  • Neuronal development
  • Tau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology


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