Synapse degeneration occurs early in neurodegenerative diseases and correlates strongly with cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease (AD). The molecular mechanisms that trigger synapse vulnerability and those that promote synapse regeneration after substantial synaptic failure remain poorly understood. Increasing evidence suggests a link between a deficiency in Wnt signaling and AD. The secreted Wnt antagonist Dickkopf-1 (Dkk1), which is elevated in AD, contributes to amyloid-β-mediated synaptic failure. However, the impact of Dkk1 at the circuit level and the mechanism by which synapses disassemble have not yet been explored. Using a transgenic mouse model that inducibly expresses Dkk1 in the hippocampus, we demonstrate that Dkk1 triggers synapse loss, impairs long-term potentiation, enhances long-term depression, and induces learning and memory deficits. We decipher the mechanism involved in synapse loss induced by Dkk1 as it can be prevented by combined inhibition of the Gsk3 and RhoA-Rock pathways. Notably, after loss of synaptic connectivity, reactivation of the Wnt pathway by cessation of Dkk1 expression completely restores synapse number, synaptic plasticity, and long-term memory. These findings demonstrate the remarkable capacity of adult neurons to regenerate functional circuits and highlight Wnt signaling as a targetable pathway for neuronal circuit recovery after synapse degeneration.
Copyright © 2016 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.