Damage to the central nervous system (CNS) of fish can often be repaired to restore function, but in mammals recovery from CNS injuries usually fails due to a lack of axon regeneration. The relatively growth-permissive environment of the fish CNS may reflect both the absence of axon inhibitors found in the mammalian CNS and the presence of pro-regenerative environmental factors. Despite their different capacities for axon regeneration, many of the physiological processes, intrinsic molecular pathways, and cellular behaviors that control an axon's ability to regrow are conserved between fish and mammals. Fish models have thus been useful both for identifying factors differing between mammals and fish that may account for differences in CNS regeneration and for characterizing conserved intrinsic pathways that regulate axon regeneration in all vertebrates. The majority of adult axon regeneration studies have focused on the optic nerve or spinal axons of the teleosts goldfish and zebrafish, which have been productive models for identifying genes associated with axon regeneration, cellular mechanisms of circuit reestablishment, and the basis of functional recovery. Lampreys, which are jawless fish lacking myelin, have provided an opportunity to study regeneration of well defined spinal cord circuits. Newer larval zebrafish models offer numerous genetic tools and the ability to monitor the dynamic behaviors of extrinsic cell types regulating axon regeneration in live animals. Recent advances in imaging and gene editing methods are making fish models yet more powerful for investigating the cellular and molecular underpinnings of axon regeneration.
Keywords: Axon; Goldfish; Lamprey; Optic nerve; Regeneration; Spinal cord injury; Synapse; Wallerian degeneration; Zebrafish.
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