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Neurobiol Aging. 2009 Feb;30(2):309-21. Epub 2007 Jul 19.

Late onset distal axonal swelling in YFP-H transgenic mice.

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Laboratory of Molecular Signalling, Babraham Institute, Babraham, Cambridge CB22 3AT, UK.


Axonal swellings, or spheroids, are a feature of central nervous system (CNS) axon degeneration during normal aging and in many disorders. The direct cause and mechanism are unknown. The use of transgenic mouse line YFP-H, which expresses yellow-fluorescent protein (YFP) in a subset of neurons, greatly facilitates longitudinal imaging and live imaging of axonal swellings, but it has not been established whether long-term expression of YFP itself contributes to axonal swelling. Using conventional methods to compare YFP-H mice with their YFP negative littermates, we found an age-related increase in swellings in discrete CNS regions in both genotypes, but the presence of YFP caused significantly more swellings in mice aged 8 months or over. Increased swelling was found in gracile tract, gracile nucleus and dorsal roots but not in lateral columns, olfactory bulb, motor cortex, ventral roots or peripheral nerve. Thus, long-term expression of YFP accelerates age-related axonal swelling in some axons and data reliant on the presence of YFP in these CNS regions in older animals needs to be interpreted carefully. The ability of a foreign protein to exacerbate age-related axon pathology is an important clue to the mechanisms by which such pathology can arise.

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