The regenerative ability of CNS axons decreases with age however this ability remains largely intact in PNS axons throughout adulthood. These differences are likely to correspond with age-related silencing of proteins necessary for axon growth and elongation. In previous studies, it has been shown that reintroduction of the alpha9 integrin subunit (tenascin-C receptor, α9) that is downregulated in adult CNS can improve neurite outgrowth and sensory axon regeneration after a dorsal rhizotomy or a dorsal column crush spinal cord lesion. In the current study, we demonstrate that virally-expressed integrins (α9, α6, or β1 integrin) in the adult rat sensorimotor cortex and adult red nucleus are excluded from axons following neuronal transduction. Attempts to stimulate transport by inclusion of a cervical spinal injury and thus an upregulation of extracellular matrix molecules at the lesion site, or co-transduction with its binding partner, β1 integrin, did not induce integrin localization within axons. In contrast, virally-expressed α9 integrin in developing rat cortex (postnatal day 5 or 10) demonstrated clear localization of integrins in cortical axons revealed by the presence of integrin in the axons of the corpus callosum and internal capsule as well as in the neuronal cell body. Furthermore, examination of dorsal root ganglia neurons and retinal ganglion cells demonstrated integrin localization both within peripheral nerve as well as dorsal root axons and within optic nerve axons, respectively. Together, our results suggest a differential ability for in vivo axonal transport of transmembrane proteins dependent on neuronal age and subtype.
Significance Statement: Most CNS neurons have an intrinsically low ability to regenerate their axons. This study has asked whether the transport into axons of integrins, the receptors that mediate growth through extracellular matrix, might reveal reasons for the poor regenerative ability of CNS axons. Tagged integrins were expressed in sensory, retinal ganglion cell, cortical and red nucleus neurons. The integrins were transported down the axons of sensory and retinal ganglion cell axons, but not down the axons of adult cortical or red nucleus neurons. However, during the postnatal period of corticospinal axon growth, cortical neurons admitted integrins into their axons. The findings suggest that exclusion of integrins and other receptors from CNS axons may be a cause for their poor regenerative ability.
↵1 James Fawcett is a paid consultant for Acorda Therapeutics.
↵3 This work was supported by the International Foundation for Research in Paraplegia (MRA), the Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation (MRA), the American Association of Anatomists (MRA), the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation (JWF), the Medical Research Council (JWF), the Plasticise European Network (seventh framework program) (JWF) and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.