Neurodegeneration in C. elegans models of ALS requires TIR-1/Sarm1 immune pathway activation in neurons

Nat Commun. 2015 Jun 10:6:7319. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8319.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease thought to employ cell non-autonomous mechanisms where neuronal injury engages immune responses to influence disease progression. Here we show that the expression of mutant proteins causative for ALS in Caenorhabditis elegans motor neurons induces an innate immune response via TIR-1/Sarm1. Loss of function mutations in tir-1, associated downstream kinases, and the transcription factor atf-7 all suppress motor neuron degeneration. The neurosecretory proteins UNC-13 and UNC-31 are required for induction of the immune response as well as the degeneration of motor neurons. The human orthologue of UNC-13, UNC13A, has been identified as a genetic modifier of survival in ALS, and we provide functional evidence of UNC-13/UNC13A in regulating motor neuron degeneration. We propose that the innate immune system reacts to the presence of mutant proteins as a contagion, recruiting a pathogen resistance response that is ultimately harmful and drives progressive neurodegeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / immunology
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / immunology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / immunology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Motor Neurons / pathology
  • Neurons / immunology*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / immunology*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • tir-1 protein, C elegans