Mechanisms of axonal spheroid formation in central nervous system Wallerian degeneration

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2010 May;69(5):455-72. doi: 10.1097/NEN.0b013e3181da84db.


Wallerian degeneration of the CNS is accompanied by axonal dystrophy or swelling. To understand the mechanisms by which swellings arise, we studied their spatiotemporal dynamics, ultrastructure, composition, and the conditions that affect their formation in vivo and ex vivo. In contrast to peripheral nerve axons, lesioned optic nerve (ON) axons in vivo developed focal swellings asynchronously within 6 hours, long before there is any axon fragmentation. Axons in ON, spinal cord dorsal column, and corpus callosum all showed marked gradients with more swellings in proximal regions of their distal stumps early after lesion. Time-lapse imaging of a validated ex vivo system showed that multiple focal swellings arise after around 1 hour close to the injury site, followed by anterograde wave-like progression on continuous ON axon stumps. Swellings were largely stable but occasionally seemed to fuse with neighboring swellings. Their ultrastructural appearances resembled disease-associated spheroids. Although accumulation of axonal markers suggested transport deficits, large accumulations of mitochondria were not observed. Early swelling formation was decreased in Wld gene-expressing rodents and by removing extracellular calcium. Several pharmacologic agents that inhibit axon loss in vitro and/or in vivo also prevented early formation of axonal spheroids in acute ON explants. Because axonal swellings are hallmarks of many neurodegenerative conditions, these data suggest that they are a manifestation of Wallerian-like degeneration in some cases. Thus, Wallerian-like degeneration may be a more common component mechanism in CNS diseases than previously thought.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenine / analogs & derivatives
  • Adenine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / pathology*
  • Axons / physiology
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Axotomy / methods
  • Calcimycin / pharmacology
  • Central Nervous System / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Ionophores / pharmacology
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 2 / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission / methods
  • Mitochondria / pathology
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neural Pathways / pathology
  • Optic Nerve / pathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rats, Transgenic
  • Time Factors
  • Wallerian Degeneration / pathology*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Ionophores
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 2
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Wld protein, rat
  • Calcimycin
  • 3-methyladenine
  • Adenine