Axon regeneration holds great promise for neural repair of CNS axonopathies, including glaucoma. Pten deletion in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) promotes potent optic nerve regeneration, but only a small population of Pten-null RGCs are actually regenerating RGCs (regRGCs); most surviving RGCs (surRGCs) remain non-regenerative. Here, we developed a strategy to specifically label and purify regRGCs and surRGCs, respectively, from the same Pten-deletion mice after optic nerve crush, in which they differ only in their regeneration capability. Smart-Seq2 single-cell transcriptome analysis revealed novel regeneration-associated genes that significantly promote axon regeneration. The most potent of these, Anxa2, acts synergistically with its ligand tPA in Pten-deletion-induced axon regeneration. Anxa2, its downstream effector ILK, and Mpp1 dramatically protect RGC somata and axons and preserve visual function in a clinically relevant model of glaucoma, demonstrating the exciting potential of this innovative strategy to identify novel effective neural repair candidates.
Keywords: Anxa2; ILK; Mpp1; Pten; RGC; Smart-Seq2; axon regeneration; glaucoma; neural repair; optic nerve.
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