In many neurodegenerative disorders that lead to memory loss and dementia, the brain pathology responsible for neuronal loss is marked by accumulations of proteins in the form of extracellular plaques and intracellular filamentous tangles, containing hyperphosphorylated cytoskeletal proteins. These are assumed to arise as a consequence of deregulation of a normal pattern of topographic phosphorylation-that is, an abnormal shift of cytoskeletal protein phosphorylation from the normal axonal compartment to cell bodies. Although decades of studies have been directed to this problem, biochemical approaches in mammalian systems are limited: neurons are too small to permit separation of cell body and axon compartments. Since the pioneering studies of Hodgkin and Huxley on the giant fiber system of the squid, however, the stellate ganglion and its giant axons have been the focus of a large literature on the physiology and biochemistry of neuron function. This review concentrates on a host of studies in our laboratory and others on the factors regulating compartment-specific patterns of cytoskeletal protein phosphorylation (primarily neurofilaments) in an effort to establish a normal baseline of information for further studies on neurodegeneration. On the basis of these data, a model of topographic regulation is proposed that offers several possibilities for further studies on potential sites of deregulation that may lead to pathologies resembling those seen in mammalian and human brains showing neurodegeneration, dementia, and neuronal cell death.