Neurofilaments (NF) are approximately 10 nanometer intermediate filaments found in neurons. They are a major component of the neuronal cytoskeleton, and function primarily to provide structural support for the axon and regulate axon diameter. There are three major NF subunits, and the names given to these subunits are based upon the apparent molecular mass of the mammalian subunits on SDS-PAGE: the light or lowest NF (NF-L) runs at 68-70 kD; the medium or middle NF (NF-M) runs at about 145-160 kD; the heavy or highest NF (NF-H) runs at 200-220 kD. However, the actual molecular weight of these proteins is considerably lower due to the highly charged C-terminal regions of the molecules. The level of NF gene expression correlates with axonal diameter, which controls how fast electrical signals travel down the axon. Mutant mice with NF abnormalities have phenotypes resembling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. NF immunostaining is common in diagnostic neuropathology. It is useful for differentiating neurons (positive for NF) from glia (negative for NF).
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