Date Published:2016 May 25
UNLABELLED: Axon injury is an early event in neurodegenerative diseases that often leads to retrograde neuronal cell death and progressive permanent loss of vital neuronal functions. The connection of these two obviously sequential degenerative events, however, is elusive. Deciphering the upstream signals that trigger the neurodegeneration cascades in both neuronal soma and axon would be a key step toward developing the effective neuroprotectants that are greatly needed in the clinic. We showed previously that optic nerve injury-induced neuronal endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress plays an important role in retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death. Using two in vivo mouse models of optic neuropathies (traumatic optic nerve injury and glaucoma) and adeno-associated virus-mediated RGC-specific gene targeting, we now show that differential manipulation of unfolded protein response pathways in opposite directions-inhibition of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2α-C/EBP homologous protein and activation of X-box binding protein 1-promotes both RGC axons and somata survival and preserves visual function. Our results indicate that axon injury-induced neuronal ER stress plays an important role in both axon degeneration and neuron soma death. Neuronal ER stress is therefore a promising therapeutic target for glaucoma and potentially other types of neurodegeneration. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Neuron soma and axon degeneration have distinct molecular mechanisms although they are clearly connected after axon injury. We previously demonstrated that axon injury induces neuronal endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and that manipulation of ER stress molecules synergistically promotes neuron cell body survival. Here we investigated the possibility that ER stress also plays a role in axon degeneration and whether ER stress modulation preserves neuronal function in neurodegenerative diseases. Our results suggest that neuronal ER stress is a general mechanism of degeneration for both neuronal cell body and axon, and that therapeutic targeting of ER stress produces significant functional recovery.