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J Neurosci. 2009 Jan 21;29(3):653-68. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3814-08.2009.

Non-nuclear Wld(S) determines its neuroprotective efficacy for axons and synapses in vivo.

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Laboratory of Molecular Signalling, The Babraham Institute, Cambridge, UK.


Axon degeneration contributes widely to neurodegenerative disease but its regulation is poorly understood. The Wallerian degeneration slow (Wld(S)) protein protects axons dose-dependently in many circumstances but is paradoxically abundant in nuclei. To test the hypothesis that Wld(S) acts within nuclei in vivo, we redistributed it from nucleus to cytoplasm in transgenic mice. Surprisingly, instead of weakening the phenotype as expected, extranuclear Wld(S) significantly enhanced structural and functional preservation of transected distal axons and their synapses. In contrast to native Wld(S) mutants, distal axon stumps remained continuous and ultrastructurally intact up to 7 weeks after injury and motor nerve terminals were robustly preserved even in older mice, remaining functional for 6 d. Moreover, we detect extranuclear Wld(S) for the first time in vivo, and higher axoplasmic levels in transgenic mice with Wld(S) redistribution. Cytoplasmic Wld(S) fractionated predominantly with mitochondria and microsomes. We conclude that Wld(S) can act in one or more non-nuclear compartments to protect axons and synapses, and that molecular changes can enhance its therapeutic potential.

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