Lack of robust axonal regeneration represents a major barrier to functional recovery following injury to neurons within the central nervous system (CNS). In contrast, peripheral neurons can regenerate after injury. Activation of a pro-regenerative growth program in peripheral neurons relies on the expression of regeneration-associated genes (RAGs) that allow for robust axonal re-growth. Although several genes have been identified for their pro-regenerative influence, individual gene based approaches have yielded limited success in axon regeneration, illustrating that manipulation of individual RAGs is unlikely to be sufficient to stimulate robust long-distance axon regeneration in the injured CNS. Therefore, understanding how a large ensemble of RAGs can be simultaneously activated after injury could reveal strategies to initiate the transcriptional pro-regenerative program. Epigenetic regulations, which include modification of the chromatin, affect combinations of multiple genes and hence represent ideal strategies to promote neural repair. Our goal is to gain new insights into the molecular events that regulate chromatin function in response to injury in peripheral neurons, and identify potential targets for future treatment of CNS injuries We previously demonstrated that axon injury elicits an epigenetic switch stimulating the regenerative competence of sensory neurons. Specifically, we discovered that calcium wave back-propagating from the site of axonal injury increases histone acetylation levels, stimulating the regenerative competence of sensory neuron. This work demonstrates a link between axon injury and chromatin remodeling and suggests that a coordinated pro-regenerative program is initiated by changes in the epigenetic landscape. In our recent studies, we identified hypoxia-inducible factor 1? (HIF-1?) as an important factor regulating axon regeneration via epigenetic as well as transcriptional regulatory mechanisms. We found that HIF-1? is required in injured sensory neurons to increase histone acetylation levels, to stimulate the expression of pro- regenerative genes and to promote axon regeneration. In mice breathing repeatedly low oxygen levels for brief periods (i.e., acute intermittent hypoxia, AIH) we observed increased levels of HIF-1? and enhanced axon regeneration in sensory neurons. However, the signaling pathways in normoxic conditions regulating HIF-1? accumulation and the precise mechanisms by which HIF-1? regulates chromatin in injured neurons remain elusive. Here we propose to uncover the molecular mechanisms controlling HIF-1? stability and activity following injury and to establish its specific roles in chromatin remodeling in injured neurons. We will also test if AIH can recapitulate at least in part the epigenetic changes elicited by peripheral axon injury and activate a pro-regenerative program in both peripheral and central neurons. This proposal has the potential to provide further rationale for the improvement of AIH-based treatment strategies for human patients. .

Public Health Relevance

Lack of robust axon regeneration in the central nervous system (CNS) represents one of the major barriers to recovery of neurological functions following injury and remains a major problem in neurobiology. To solve this problem, our goal is to reveal the molecular pathways that dictate the regenerative response of peripheral neurons, which successfully regenerate. Here we propose to uncover the the specific roles of hypoxia- inducible factor 1? (HIF-1?) in chromatin remodeling in injured neurons and test the hypothesis that providing an appropriate epigenetic landscape with acute intermittent hypoxia promotes axon regeneration in the CNS.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
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Molecular Neurogenetics Study Section (MNG)
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Jakeman, Lyn B
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Washington University
Schools of Medicine
Saint Louis
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Mahar, Marcus; Cavalli, Valeria (2018) Intrinsic mechanisms of neuronal axon regeneration. Nat Rev Neurosci 19:323-337