Axonal Degeneration during Aging and Its Functional Role in Neurodegenerative Disorders

Front Neurosci. 2017 Sep 4;11:451. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00451. eCollection 2017.


Aging constitutes the main risk factor for the development of neurodegenerative diseases. This represents a major health issue worldwide that is only expected to escalate due to the ever-increasing life expectancy of the population. Interestingly, axonal degeneration, which occurs at early stages of neurodegenerative disorders (ND) such as Alzheimer's disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease, also takes place as a consequence of normal aging. Moreover, the alteration of several cellular processes such as proteostasis, response to cellular stress and mitochondrial homeostasis, which have been described to occur in the aging brain, can also contribute to axonal pathology. Compelling evidence indicate that the degeneration of axons precedes clinical symptoms in NDs and occurs before cell body loss, constituting an early event in the pathological process and providing a potential therapeutic target to treat neurodegeneration before neuronal cell death. Although, normal aging and the development of neurodegeneration are two processes that are closely linked, the molecular basis of the switch that triggers the transition from healthy aging to neurodegeneration remains unrevealed. In this review we discuss the potential role of axonal degeneration in this transition and provide a detailed overview of the literature and current advances in the molecular understanding of the cellular changes that occur during aging that promote axonal degeneration and then discuss this in the context of ND.

Keywords: aging; axonal degeneration; axonopathy; disease models; neurodegeneration.

Publication types

  • Review