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In vivo imaging of injured cortical axons reveals a rapid onset form of Wallerian degeneration


Canty, AJ and Jackson, JS and Huang, L and Trabalza, A and Bass, C and Little, G and Tortora, M and Khan, S and De Paola, V, In vivo imaging of injured cortical axons reveals a rapid onset form of Wallerian degeneration, BMC Biology, 18, (1) Article 170. ISSN 1741-7007 (2020) [Refereed Article]


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Copyright 2020 the authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

DOI: doi:10.1186/s12915-020-00869-2



Despite the widespread occurrence of axon and synaptic loss in the injured and diseased nervous system, the cellular and molecular mechanisms of these key degenerative processes remain incompletely understood. Wallerian degeneration (WD) is a tightly regulated form of axon loss after injury, which has been intensively studied in large myelinated fibre tracts of the spinal cord, optic nerve and peripheral nervous system (PNS). Fewer studies, however, have focused on WD in the complex neuronal circuits of the mammalian brain, and these were mainly based on conventional endpoint histological methods. Post-mortem analysis, however, cannot capture the exact sequence of events nor can it evaluate the influence of elaborated arborisation and synaptic architecture on the degeneration process, due to the non-synchronous and variable nature of WD across individual axons.


To gain a comprehensive picture of the spatiotemporal dynamics and synaptic mechanisms of WD in the nervous system, we identify the factors that regulate WD within the mouse cerebral cortex. We combined single-axon-resolution multiphoton imaging with laser microsurgery through a cranial window and a fluorescent membrane reporter. Longitudinal imaging of > 150 individually injured excitatory cortical axons revealed a threshold length below which injured axons consistently underwent a rapid-onset form of WD (roWD). roWD started on average 20 times earlier and was executed 3 times slower than WD described in other regions of the nervous system. Cortical axon WD and roWD were dependent on synaptic density, but independent of axon complexity. Finally, pharmacological and genetic manipulations showed that a nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+)-dependent pathway could delay cortical roWD independent of transcription in the damaged neurons, demonstrating further conservation of the molecular mechanisms controlling WD in different areas of the mammalian nervous system.


Our data illustrate how in vivo time-lapse imaging can provide new insights into the spatiotemporal dynamics and synaptic mechanisms of axon loss and assess therapeutic interventions in the injured mammalian brain.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Wallerian degeneration, axon degeneration, axotomy, traumatic brain injury, lesion
Research Division:Biomedical and Clinical Sciences
Research Group:Neurosciences
Research Field:Central nervous system
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Clinical health
Objective Field:Treatment of human diseases and conditions
UTAS Author:Canty, AJ (Associate Professor Alison Canty)
ID Code:142727
Year Published:2020
Deposited By:Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre
Deposited On:2021-02-09
Last Modified:2021-05-26

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