Degeneration of the axon and synapse, the slender projection through which neurons transmit electrical impulses to neighboring cells, is a hallmark of some of the most crippling neurodegenerative and brain diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington's disease and peripheral neuropathy.
Scientists have worked for decades to understand axonal degeneration and its relation to these diseases. Now, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School are the first to describe a gene – dSarm/Sarm1 – responsible for actively promoting axon destruction after injury. The research, published today online by Science, provides evidence of an exciting new therapeutic target that could be used to delay or even stop axon decay.
"This discovery has the potential to have a profound impact on our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, much like the discovery of apoptosis (programmed cell death) fundamentally changed our understanding of cancer," said Marc R. Freeman, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and lead investigator on the study. "Identification of this gene allows us to start asking exciting new questions about the role of axon death in neurodegenerative diseases. For example, is it possible that these pathways are being inappropriately activated to cause premature axon death?"
For more than a century, scientists believed that injured axons severed from the neuron cell body passively wasted away due to a lack of nutrients. However, a mouse mutation identified in the early 1990s – called slow Wallerian degeneration (Wlds) – was able to suppress axon degeneration for weeks. This finding forced scientists to reassess Wallerian degeneration, the process through which an injured axon degenerates, as a passive process and consider the possibility that an active program of axon auto-destruction, akin to apoptotic death, was at work instead.
If Wallerian degeneration was an active process, hypothesized Dr. Freeman, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist, then it should be possible through forward genetic screens in Drosophila to identify mutants exhibiting Wlds-like axon protection. Freeman and colleagues screened more than 2,000 Drosophila mutants for ones that exhibited long-term survival of severed axons. Freeman says this was a heroic effort on the part of his colleagues. The screen took place over the next two and a half years, and involved seven students and post-docs in the Freeman lab—Jeannette M. Osterloh, A. Nicole Fox, PhD, Michelle A. Avery, PhD, Rachel Hackett, Mary A. Logan, PhD, Jennifer M. MacDonald, Jennifer S. Zeigenfuss—who performed the painstaking and labor-intensive experiments needed on each Drosophila mutant to identify flies that suppressed axonal degeneration after nerve injury.
Through these tests, they identified three mutants (out of the 2,000 screened) where severed axons survived for the lifespan of the fly. Next generation sequencing and chromosome deficiency mapping techniques were then used to isolate the single gene affected in all three – dSarm. These were loss-of-function alleles, meaning that Drosophila unable to produce the dSarm/Sarm1 molecule exhibited prolonged axon survival for as many as 30 days after injury. Freeman and colleagues went on to show that mice lacking Sarm1, the mammalian homolog of dSarm, also displayed remarkable preservation of injured axons. These findings provided the first direct evidence that Wallerian degeneration was driven by a conserved axonal death program and not a passive response to axon injury.
"For 20 years people have been looking for a gene whose normal function is to promote axon degeneration," said Osterloh, first author on the study. "Identification of the dSarm/Sarm1 gene has enormous therapeutic potential, for example as a knockdown target for patients suffering from diseases involving axonal loss."
The next step for Freeman and colleagues is to identify additional genes in the axon death pathway and investigate whether any have links with specific neurodegenerative diseases. "We're already working with scientists at UMMS to understand the role axon death plays in ALS and Huntington's disease," said Freeman. "We are very excited about the possibility that these findings could have broad therapeutic potential in many neurodegenerative diseases."
About the University of Massachusetts Medical School
The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. The Medical School attracts more than $270 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. The mission of the Medical School is to advance the health and well-being of the people of the commonwealth and the world through pioneering education, research, public service and health care delivery with its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care.
Jim Fessenden | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis > Drosophila melanogaster > Huntington's disease > Medical Wellness > brain disease > brain diseases > dSarm/Sarm1 > degenerative disease > electrical impulse > neighboring cells > neurodegenerative disease > peripheral neuropathy > programmed cell death
The birth of a new protein
20.10.2017 | University of Arizona
Building New Moss Factories
20.10.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research