Division of Biomedical Sciences, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521, USA; Graduate Program in Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521, USA. Electronic address: [Email]
How a neuron acquires an axon is a fundamental question. Piecemeal identification of many axonogenesis-related genes has been done, but coordinated regulation is unknown. Through unbiased transcriptome profiling of immature primary cortical neurons during early axon formation, we discovered an association between axonogenesis and neuron-specific alternative splicing. Known axonogenesis genes exhibit little expression alternation but widespread splicing changes. Axonogenesis-associated splicing is governed by RNA binding protein PTBP2, which is enriched in neurons and peaks around axonogenesis in the brain. Cortical depletion of PTBP2 prematurely induces axonogenesis-associated splicing, causes imbalanced expression of axonogenesis-associated isoforms, and specifically affects axon formation in vitro and in vivo. PTBP2-controlled axonogenesis-associated Shtn1 splicing determines SHTN1's capacity to regulate actin interaction, polymerization, and axon growth. Precocious Shtn1 isoform switch contributes to disorganized axon formation of Ptbp2-/- neurons. We conclude that PTBP2-orchestrated alternative splicing programming is required for robust generation of a single axon in mammals.