Axon retraction and degeneration in development and disease

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2005:28:127-56. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.28.061604.135632.


The selective elimination of axons, dendrites, axon and dendrite branches, and synapses, without loss of the parent neurons, occurs during normal development of the nervous system as well as in response to injury or disease in the adult. The widespread developmental phenomena of exuberant axonal projections and synaptic connections require both small-scale and large-scale axon pruning to generate precise adult connectivity, and they provide a mechanism for neural plasticity in the developing and adult nervous system, as well as a mechanism to evolve differences between species in a projection system. Such pruning is also required to remove axonal connections damaged in the adult, to stabilize the affected neural circuits, and to initiate their repair. Pruning occurs through either retraction or degeneration. Here we review examples of these phenomena and consider potential cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie axon retraction and degeneration and how they might relate to each other in development and disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Mushroom Bodies / growth & development
  • Mushroom Bodies / physiology
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / cytology
  • Visual Pathways / growth & development
  • Wallerian Degeneration / genetics
  • Wallerian Degeneration / physiopathology