Loss of translation elongation factor (eEF1A2) expression in vivo differentiates between Wallerian degeneration and dying-back neuronal pathology

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Abstract

Wallerian degeneration and dying-back pathology are two well-known cellular pathways capable of regulating the breakdown and loss of axonal and synaptic compartments of neurons in vivo. However, the underlying mechanisms and molecular triggers of these pathways remain elusive. Here, we show that loss of translation elongation factor eEF1A2 expression in lower motor neurons and skeletal muscle fibres in homozygous Wasted mice triggered a dying-back neuropathy. Synaptic loss at the neuromuscular junction occurred in advance of axonal pathology and by a mechanism morphologically distinct from Wallerian degeneration. Dying-back pathology in Wasted mice was accompanied by reduced expression levels of the zinc finger protein ZPR1, as found in other dying-back neuropathies such as spinal muscular atrophy. Surprisingly, experimental nerve lesion revealed that Wallerian degeneration was significantly delayed in homozygous Wasted mice; morphological assessment revealed that ∼80% of neuromuscular junctions in deep lumbrical muscles at 24 h and ∼50% at 48 h had retained motor nerve terminals following tibial nerve lesion. This was in contrast to wild-type and heterozygous Wasted mice where < 5% of neuromuscular junctions had retained motor nerve terminals at 24 h post-lesion. These data show that eEF1A2 expression is required to prevent the initiation of dying-back pathology at the neuromuscular junction in vivo. In contrast, loss of eEF1A2 expression significantly inhibited the initiation and progression of Wallerian degeneration in vivo. We conclude that loss of eEF1A2 expression distinguishes mechanisms underlying dying-back pathology from those responsible for Wallerian degeneration in vivo and suggest that eEF1A2-dependent cascades may provide novel molecular targets to manipulate neurodegenerative pathways in lower motor neurons.

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