Apoptosis versus axon pruning: Molecular intersection of two distinct pathways for axon degeneration

Neurosci Res. 2019 Feb;139:3-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neures.2018.11.007. Epub 2018 Nov 16.


Neurons are capable of degenerating their axons for the physiological clearance and refinement of unnecessary connections via the programmed degenerative pathways of apoptosis and axon pruning. While both pathways mediate axon degeneration they are however distinct. Whereas in apoptosis the entire neuron, both axons and cell body, degenerates, in the context of axon pruning only the targeted axon segments are selectively degenerated. Interestingly, the molecular pathways mediating axon degeneration in these two contexts have significant mechanistic overlap but also retain distinct differences. In this review, we describe the peripheral neuronal cell culture models used to study the molecular pathways of apoptosis and pruning. We outline what is known about the molecular mechanisms of apoptosis and axon pruning and focus on highlighting the similarities and differences of these two pathways.

Keywords: Apaf-1; Apoptosis; Axon degeneration; Axon pruning; Bax; Caspase 3; Caspase 6; Caspase 9; Compartmentalized cultures; Microfluidic chambers; NGF; Nerve growth factor; Neurons; Sympathetic neurons; Synaptic pruning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Axons / pathology
  • Humans
  • Nerve Degeneration / metabolism
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology*
  • Nervous System Malformations / pathology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / pathology