The cell body of a lesioned neuron must receive accurate and timely information on the site and extent of axonal damage, in order to mount an appropriate response. Specific mechanisms must therefore exist to transmit such information along the length of the axon from the lesion site to the cell body. Three distinct types of signals have been postulated to underlie this process, starting with injury-induced discharge of axon potentials, and continuing with two distinct types of retrogradely transported macromolecular signals. The latter include, on the one hand, an interruption of the normal supply of retrogradely transported trophic factors from the target; and on the other hand activated proteins emanating from the injury site. These activated proteins are termed "positive injury signals", and are thought to be endogenous axoplasmic proteins that undergo post-translational modifications at the lesion site upon axotomy, which then target them to the retrograde transport system for trafficking to the cell body. Here, we summarize the work to date supporting the positive retrograde injury signal hypothesis, and provide some new and emerging proteomic data on the system. We propose that the retrograde positive injury signals form part of a complex that is assembled by a combination of different processes, including post-translational modifications such as phosphorylation, regulated and transient proteolysis, and local axonal protein synthesis.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.