Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Neurobiology; Bénard Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Claire Bénard


neuronal function, aging, nervous system, Caenorhabditis Elegans


Dissertations, UMMS; Caenorhabditis elegans; Nervous System; Neurons; Cell Aging; Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules; Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins


Though symptoms such as loss of vision, decline in cognition and memory are evident during aging, the underlying processes that affect neuronal function during aging are not well understood. Unlike changes in other tissues and organs, age-related changes in the nervous system affect the overall physical, mental as well as social state of human beings. To start elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying normal age-dependent brain decline, we have characterized structural neuronal changes occurring during Caenorhabditis elegans aging. Our analysis reveals distinct neuronal alterations that arise with age and that the types of changes and their age of onset are neuronal-type specific, highlighting the differential susceptibility of neurons to the stresses of life. We also find that these age-dependent neuronal changes are largely uncoupled from lifespan. As a first step towards understanding the neuropathological conditions manifested during senescence, we have characterized the role of the neuronal maintenance gene sax-7/L1CAM in normal C. elegans aging. Our comparison of age-related structural changes in the wild-type nervous system with that of sax-7 mutants, indicates that loss of function of sax-7 results in accelerated neuronal deterioration that mimics alterations occurring during normal aging. Conversely, overexpressing wild-type copies of SAX-7 delays some of the neuronal changes that accompany normal aging, indicating that SAX-7 plays a neuroprotective role. Additionally we find that x mechanical stress from body movements impacts the neuronal changes during adulthood. Taken together, our results give an entry point into the mechanisms of age-related neuroanatomical changes and neuronal protection.



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