Mitochondrial swelling and microtubule depolymerization are associated with energy depletion in axon degeneration

Neuroscience. 2013 May 15;238:258-69. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.02.033. Epub 2013 Feb 26.


Although mitochondrial dysfunction is intimately related to axonal degeneration following nerve injury, the molecular mechanisms of mitochondrial swelling and its mechanistic relation to axonal degeneration are largely unknown. Previous studies have demonstrated that axonal degeneration in the injured peripheral nerves shows two morphologically distinct phases: (1) A latency period (∼24h), in which the morphology of axonal cytoskeletons seems unchanged, followed by (2) an execution period (36-48h), which shows a catastrophic granular degeneration of most axonal structures in rodent axons. In the present study, we found that, in the sciatic nerve axotomy model, energy failure and microtubule depolymerization occurred during the latency period whereas mitochondrial swelling and neurofilament degradation started in the execution period. The energy repletion with NAD or an NAD/pyruvate mixture inhibited microtubule depolymerization, mitochondrial swelling and axonal degeneration in transected sciatic nerve axons. In addition, microtubule perturbing agents enhanced axonal degeneration and mitochondrial swelling. Extracellular calcium chelation did not affect energy failure, microtubule depolymerization or mitochondrial swelling, but it did prevent neurofilament degradation. These findings suggest that an early disturbance in energy dynamics regardless of mitochondrial swelling might be a key trigger for the initiation of axonal degeneration and that extracellular calcium influx is a late effector for neurofilament degradation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Axons / pathology
  • Axotomy
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microtubules / drug effects
  • Microtubules / metabolism*
  • Microtubules / pathology
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / pathology
  • Mitochondrial Swelling / drug effects
  • Mitochondrial Swelling / physiology*
  • Paclitaxel / pharmacology
  • Sciatic Nerve / injuries*
  • Sciatic Nerve / metabolism
  • Sciatic Nerve / pathology
  • Tubulin Modulators / pharmacology
  • Vincristine / pharmacology
  • Wallerian Degeneration / metabolism*
  • Wallerian Degeneration / pathology


  • Tubulin Modulators
  • Vincristine
  • Paclitaxel