To test the hypothesis that fast anterograde molecular motor proteins power the slow axonal transport of neurofilaments (NFs), we used homologous recombination to generate mice lacking the neuronal-specific conventional kinesin heavy chain, KIF5A. Because null KIF5A mutants die immediately after birth, a synapsin-promoted Cre-recombinase transgene was used to direct inactivation of KIF5A in neurons postnatally. Three fourths of such mutant mice exhibited seizures and death at around 3 wk of age; the remaining animals survived to 3 mo or longer. In young mutant animals, fast axonal transport appeared to be intact, but NF-H, as well as NF-M and NF-L, accumulated in the cell bodies of peripheral sensory neurons accompanied by a reduction in sensory axon caliber. Older animals also developed age-dependent sensory neuron degeneration, an accumulation of NF subunits in cell bodies and a reduction in axons, loss of large caliber axons, and hind limb paralysis. These data support the hypothesis that a conventional kinesin plays a role in the microtubule-dependent slow axonal transport of at least one cargo, the NF proteins.
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