Distal axotomy enhances retrograde presynaptic excitability onto injured pyramidal neurons via trans-synaptic signaling

Nat Commun. 2017 Sep 20;8(1):625. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-00652-y.


Injury of CNS nerve tracts remodels circuitry through dendritic spine loss and hyper-excitability, thus influencing recovery. Due to the complexity of the CNS, a mechanistic understanding of injury-induced synaptic remodeling remains unclear. Using microfluidic chambers to separate and injure distal axons, we show that axotomy causes retrograde dendritic spine loss at directly injured pyramidal neurons followed by retrograde presynaptic hyper-excitability. These remodeling events require activity at the site of injury, axon-to-soma signaling, and transcription. Similarly, directly injured corticospinal neurons in vivo also exhibit a specific increase in spiking following axon injury. Axotomy-induced hyper-excitability of cultured neurons coincides with elimination of inhibitory inputs onto injured neurons, including those formed onto dendritic spines. Netrin-1 downregulation occurs following axon injury and exogenous netrin-1 applied after injury normalizes spine density, presynaptic excitability, and inhibitory inputs at injured neurons. Our findings show that intrinsic signaling within damaged neurons regulates synaptic remodeling and involves netrin-1 signaling.Spinal cord injury can induce synaptic reorganization and remodeling in the brain. Here the authors study how severed distal axons signal back to the cell body to induce hyperexcitability, loss of inhibition and enhanced presynaptic release through netrin-1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axotomy
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Gene Expression
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology
  • Netrin-1 / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Ntn1 protein, rat
  • Netrin-1
  • Glutamic Acid