Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Neurobiology; Freeman Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Marc Freeman


Axons, Nerve Degeneration, Neurodegenerative Diseases, Drosophila Proteins, Cytoskeletal Proteins, Armadillo Domain Proteins


Dissertations, UMMS; Axons; Nerve Degeneration; Neurodegenerative Diseases; Drosophila Proteins; Cytoskeletal Proteins; Armadillo Domain Proteins


Axonal and synaptic degeneration is a hallmark of peripheral neuropathy, brain injury, and neurodegenerative disease. Axonal degeneration has been proposed to be mediated by an active autodestruction program, akin to apoptotic cell death; however, loss-of-function mutations capable of potently blocking axon self-destruction have not been described. Using a forward genetic screen in Drosophila, we identified that loss of the Toll receptor adaptor dSarm (sterile a/Armadillo/Toll-Interleukin receptor homology domain protein) cell-autonomously suppresses Wallerian degeneration for weeks after axotomy. Severed mouse Sarm1 null axons exhibit remarkable long-term survival both in vivo and in vitro, indicating that Sarm1 prodegenerative signaling is conserved in mammals. Our results provide direct evidence that axons actively promote their own destruction after injury and identify dSarm/Sarm1 as a member of an ancient axon death signaling pathway. This death signaling pathway can be activated without injury by loss of the N-terminal self-inhibitory domain, resulting in spontaneous neurodegeneration. To investigate the role of axon self-destruction in disease, we assessed the effects of Sarm1 loss on neurodegeneration in the SOD1-G93A model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a lethal condition resulting in progressive motor neuron death and paralysis. Loss of Sarm1 potently protects motor axons and synapses from degeneration, but only extends animal survival by 10%. Thus, there appears to be at least two driving forces in place during ALS disease progression: (1) Sarm1 mediated axon death, and (2) cell body destruction via some unknown mechanism.



Rights and Permissions

Copyright is held by the author, with all rights reserved.