Rats 24 d old were injected intraocularly with [2-3H]glycerol and [35S]methionine and killed 1 h-60 d later. 35S label in protein and 3H label in total phospholipid and a mitochondria-specific lipid, diphosphatidylglycerol(DPG), were determined in optic pathway structures (retinas, optic nerves, optic tracts, lateral geniculate bodies, and superior colliculi). Incorporation of label into retinal protein and phospholipid was nearly maximal 1 h postinjection, after which the label appeared in successive optic pathway structures. Based on the time difference between the arrival of label in the optic tract and superior colliculus, it was calculated that protein and phospholipid were transported at a rate of about 400 mm/d, and DPG at about half this rate. Transported labeled phospholipid and DPG, which initially comprised 3-5% of the lipid label, continued to accumulate in the visual structures for 6-8 d postinjection. The distribution of transported material among the optic pathway structures as a function of time differed markedly for different labeled macromolecules. Rapidly transported proteins distributed preferentially to the nerve endings (superior colliculus and lateral geniculate). Total phospholipid quickly established a pattern of comparable labeling of axon (optic nerve and tract) and nerve endings. In contrast, the distribution of transported labeled DPG gradually shifted toward the nerve ending and stabilized by 2-4 d. A model is proposed in which apparent "transport" of mitochondria is actually the result of random bidirectional saltatory movements of individual mitochondria which equilibrate them among cell body, axon, and nerve ending pools
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