Neurons are the most highly polarized cells, comprised of two structurally and functionally distinct parts, axons and dendrites. This asymmetry enables a vectorial flow of signaling within neurons. One of the most fundamental questions still to be answered in neuroscience is how these two specialized processes initially develop. The first manifestation of polarization occurs when one of the immature neurites acquires axonal characteristics. We review recent advances that have highlighted the involvement of several cellular events in the initial formation of the axon, including membrane traffic and cytoskeletal rearrangement. We then discuss the molecular mechanisms underlying axon formation, focusing on the Rho family small GTPases and an axon-inducing neuronal protein, CRMP-2.
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