Synaptic withdrawal following nerve injury is influenced by postnatal maturity, muscle-specific properties, and the presence of underlying pathology in mice

Alannah J. Mole, Sarah Bell, Alison K. Thomson, Kosala N. Dissanayake, Richard R. Ribchester, Lyndsay M. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Axonal and synaptic degeneration occur following nerve injury and during disease. Traumatic nerve injury results in rapid fragmentation of the distal axon and loss of synaptic terminals, in a process known as Wallerian degeneration (WD). Identifying and understanding factors that influence the rate of WD is of significant biological and clinical importance, as it will facilitate understanding of the mechanisms of neurodegeneration and identification of novel therapeutic targets. Here, we investigate levels of synaptic loss following nerve injury under a range of conditions, including during postnatal development, in a range of anatomically distinct muscles and in a mouse model of motor neuron disease. By utilising an ex vivo model of nerve injury, we show that synaptic withdrawal is slower during early postnatal development. Significantly more neuromuscular junctions remained fully innervated in the cranial nerve/muscle preparations analysed at P15 than at P25. Furthermore, we demonstrate variability in the level of synaptic withdrawal in response to injury in different muscles, with retraction being slower in abdominal preparations than in cranial muscles across all time points analysed. Importantly, differences between the cranial and thoracoabdominal musculature seen here are not consistent with differences in muscle vulnerability that have been previously reported in mouse models of the childhood motor neuron disease, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), caused by depletion of survival motor neuron protein (Smn). To further investigate the relationship between synaptic degeneration in SMA and WD, we induced WD in preparations from the Smn2B/− mouse model of SMA. In a disease‐resistant muscle (rostral band of levator auris longus), where there is minimal denervation, there was no change in the level of synaptic loss, which suggests that the process of synaptic withdrawal following injury is Smn‐independent. However, in a muscle with ongoing degeneration (transvs. abdominis), the level of synaptic loss significantly increased, with the percentage of denervated endplates increasing by 33% following injury, compared to disease alone. We therefore conclude that the presence of a die‐back can accelerate synaptic loss after injury in Smn2B/− mice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-274
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number2
Early online date20 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


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