Programmed axon degeneration: from mouse to mechanism to medicine

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2020 Apr;21(4):183-196. doi: 10.1038/s41583-020-0269-3. Epub 2020 Mar 9.


Wallerian degeneration is a widespread mechanism of programmed axon degeneration. In the three decades since the discovery of the Wallerian degeneration slow (WldS) mouse, research has generated extensive knowledge of the molecular mechanisms underlying Wallerian degeneration, demonstrated its involvement in non-injury disorders and found multiple ways to block it. Recent developments have included: the detection of NMNAT2 mutations that implicate Wallerian degeneration in rare human diseases; the capacity for lifelong rescue of a lethal condition related to Wallerian degeneration in mice; the discovery of 'druggable' enzymes, including SARM1 and MYCBP2 (also known as PHR1), in Wallerian pathways; and the elucidation of protein structures to drive further understanding of the underlying mechanisms and drug development. Additionally, new data have indicated the potential of these advances to alleviate a number of common disorders, including chemotherapy-induced and diabetic peripheral neuropathies, traumatic brain injury, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Armadillo Domain Proteins / metabolism
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • NAD / metabolism
  • Nicotinamide-Nucleotide Adenylyltransferase / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Translational Research, Biomedical
  • Wallerian Degeneration / metabolism*


  • Armadillo Domain Proteins
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • SARM1 protein, human
  • NAD
  • NMNAT2 protein, human
  • Nicotinamide-Nucleotide Adenylyltransferase