Axon regenerative failure in the mature CNS contributes to functional deficits following many traumatic injuries, ischemic injuries, and neurodegenerative diseases. The complement cascade of the innate immune system responds to pathogen threat through inflammatory cell activation, pathogen opsonization, and pathogen lysis, and complement is also involved in CNS development, neuroplasticity, injury, and disease. Here, we investigated the involvement of the classical complement cascade and microglia/monocytes in CNS repair using the mouse optic nerve injury (ONI) model, in which axons arising from retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are disrupted. We report that central complement C3 protein and mRNA, classical complement C1q protein and mRNA, and microglia/monocyte phagocytic complement receptor CR3 all increase in response to ONI, especially within the optic nerve itself. Importantly, genetic deletion of C1q, C3, or CR3 attenuates RGC axon regeneration induced by several distinct methods, with minimal effects on RGC survival. Local injections of C1q function-blocking antibody revealed that complement acts primarily within the optic nerve, not retina, to support regeneration. Moreover, C1q opsonizes and CR3+ microglia/monocytes phagocytose growth-inhibitory myelin debris after ONI, a likely mechanism through which complement and myeloid cells support axon regeneration. Collectively, these results indicate that local optic nerve complement-myeloid phagocytic signaling is required for CNS axon regrowth, emphasizing the axonal compartment and highlighting a beneficial neuroimmune role for complement and microglia/monocytes in CNS repair.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Despite the importance of achieving axon regeneration after CNS injury and the inevitability of inflammation after such injury, the contributions of complement and microglia to CNS axon regeneration are largely unknown. Whereas inflammation is commonly thought to exacerbate the effects of CNS injury, we find that complement proteins C1q and C3 and microglia/monocyte phagocytic complement receptor CR3 are each required for retinal ganglion cell axon regeneration through the injured mouse optic nerve. Also, whereas studies of optic nerve regeneration generally focus on the retina, we show that the regeneration-relevant role of complement and microglia/monocytes likely involves myelin phagocytosis within the optic nerve. Thus, our results point to the importance of the innate immune response for CNS repair.
Keywords: C1q; C3; CD11b; CR3; microglia; myelin.
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