Axonal degeneration is an early and likely initiating event in some of the most prevalent neurological diseases, including peripheral neuropathies, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson's disease and glaucoma. Although axon loss is central to many neurological disorders, no treatments currently exist that effectively target axonal breakdown. Axon degeneration is a subcellular self-destructive process that is activated by traumatic, metabolic, and neurodegenerative insults. Conceptually this degeneration program is akin to the apoptotic pathway?it is a biochemical pathway that dismantles injured axons in much the same way that the apoptotic pathway orchestrates the programmed death of dysfunctional cells, although the molecular mechanisms are primarily distinct. Others and we discovered that SARM1 is an essential component of the injury-activated axonal degeneration program. Importantly, SARM1 is also required for axon loss in models of neurological disease, including peripheral neuropathies and traumatic brain injury. Hence, agents that block SARM1 activity are exciting therapeutic candidates for axonal preservation in diseases of axon loss. In the prior funding period we made a major conceptual breakthrough, discovering that SARM1 is a NAD+ cleaving enzyme and, hence, a druggable target in the axon degeneration pathway. However, to exploit the full promise of targeting SARM1 we must understand the molecular mechanisms upstream and downstream of SARM1 enzyme activity. Here we will explore the role of SARM1-derived NAD+ metabolites as biomarkers and mediators of axon degeneration. We will also identify the mechanisms that keep SARM1 `off' in a healthy axon and turn SARM1 `on' in a diseased axon. If successful, these studies will define the molecular mechanisms upstream and downstream of SARM1 enzyme activity and identify novel therapeutic targets for the preservation of axons in neurological diseases.

Public Health Relevance

Axons connect neurons to their targets and enable information transfer. In many neurodegenerative diseases, axon loss is an early event contributing to dysfunction of the nervous system. We have identified SARM1 as a protein that triggers axon loss in injury and disease. Here we will define how SARM1 is activated in unhealthy axons, and discover how activated SARM1 induces axon loss. These new insights could lead to methods to maintain axons and treat a wide variety of neurodegenerative diseases.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
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Neural Oxidative Metabolism and Death Study Section (NOMD)
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Gubitz, Amelie
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Washington University
Schools of Medicine
Saint Louis
United States
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