Stimulation of the nervous system by substance P, a G protein-coupled receptor, and subsequent receptor internalization causes dendrites to change their shape from homogeneous cylinders to a heterogeneous string of swollen varicosities (beads) connected by thin segments. In this paper we have analyzed this phenomenon and propose quantitative mechanisms to explain this type of physical shape transformation. We developed a mathematical solution to describe the relationship between the initial radius of a cylindrical nerve fiber and the average radii of the subsequently created varicosities and connecting segments, as well as the periodicity of the varicosities along the nerve fiber. Theoretical predictions are in good agreement with our own and published experimental data from dorsal root ganglion neurons, spinal cord, and brain. Modeling the electrical properties of these beaded fibers has led to an understanding of the functional biophysical consequences of nerve fiber transformation. Several hypotheses for how this shape transformation can be used to process information within the nervous system have been put forth.
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