The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Axonal Degeneration in Retinal Ganglion Cells Is Associated with a Membrane Polarity-Sensitive Redox Process.

PMID 28275163


Axonal degeneration is a pathophysiological mechanism common to several neurodegenerative diseases. The slow Wallerian degeneration (Wld(S)) mutation, which results in reduced axonal degeneration in the central and peripheral nervous systems, has provided insight into a redox-dependent mechanism by which axons undergo self-destruction. We studied early molecular events in axonal degeneration with single-axon laser axotomy and time-lapse imaging, monitoring the initial changes in transected axons of purified retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) from wild-type and Wld(S) rat retinas using a polarity-sensitive annexin-based biosensor (annexin B12-Cys101,Cys260-N,N'-dimethyl-N-(iodoacetyl)-N'-(7-nitrobenz-2-oxa-1,3-diazol-4-yl) ethylenediamine). Transected axons demonstrated a rapid and progressive change in membrane phospholipid polarity, manifested as phosphatidylserine externalization, which was significantly delayed and propagated more slowly in axotomized Wld(S) RGCs compared with wild-type axons. Delivery of bis(3-propionic acid methyl ester)phenylphosphine borane complex, a cell-permeable intracellular disulfide-reducing drug, slowed the onset and velocity of phosphatidylserine externalization in wild-type axons significantly, replicating the Wld(S) phenotype, whereas extracellular redox modulation reversed the Wld(S) phenotype. These findings are consistent with an intra-axonal redox mechanism for axonal degeneration associated with the initiation and propagation of phosphatidylserine externalization after axotomy.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Axonal degeneration is a neuronal process independent of somal apoptosis, the propagation of which is unclear. We combined single-cell laser axotomy with time-lapse imaging to study the dynamics of phosphatidylserine externalization immediately after axonal injury in purified retinal ganglion cells. The extension of phosphatidylserine externalization was slowed and delayed in Wallerian degeneration slow (Wld(S)) axons and this phenotype could be reproduced by intra-axonal disulfide reduction in wild-type axons and reversed by extra-axonal reduction in Wld(S) axons. These results are consistent with a redox mechanism for propagation of membrane polarity asymmetry in axonal degeneration.