Core transcription programs controlling injury-induced neurodegeneration of retinal ganglion cells

Neuron. 2022 Jun 24;S0896-6273(22)00541-4. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2022.06.003. Online ahead of print.


Regulatory programs governing neuronal death and axon regeneration in neurodegenerative diseases remain poorly understood. In adult mice, optic nerve crush (ONC) injury by severing retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons results in massive RGC death and regenerative failure. We performed an in vivo CRISPR-Cas9-based genome-wide screen of 1,893 transcription factors (TFs) to seek repressors of RGC survival and axon regeneration following ONC. In parallel, we profiled the epigenetic and transcriptional landscapes of injured RGCs by ATAC-seq and RNA-seq to identify injury-responsive TFs and their targets. These analyses converged on four TFs as critical survival regulators, of which ATF3/CHOP preferentially regulate pathways activated by cytokines and innate immunity and ATF4/C/EBPγ regulate pathways engaged by intrinsic neuronal stressors. Manipulation of these TFs protects RGCs in a glaucoma model. Our results reveal core transcription programs that transform an initial axonal insult into a degenerative process and suggest novel strategies for treating neurodegenerative diseases.

Keywords: ATF3; ATF4; C/EBPg; CHOP; axon regeneration and neuronal degeneration; optic nerve; retinal ganglion cell.