Sarm1 deletion suppresses TDP-43-linked motor neuron degeneration and cortical spine loss
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative condition that primarily affects the motor system and shares many features with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Evidence suggests that ALS is a ‘dying-back’ disease, with peripheral denervation and axonal degeneration occurring before loss of motor neuron cell bodies. Distal to a nerve injury, a similar pattern of axonal degeneration can be seen, which is mediated by an active axon destruction mechanism called Wallerian degeneration. Sterile alpha and TIR motif-containing 1 (Sarm1) is a key gene in the Wallerian pathway and its deletion provides long-term protection against both Wallerian degeneration and Wallerian-like, non-injury induced axonopathy, a retrograde degenerative process that occurs in many neurodegenerative diseases where axonal transport is impaired. Here, we explored whether Sarm1 signalling could be a therapeutic target for ALS by deleting Sarm1 from a mouse model of ALS-FTD, a TDP-43Q331K, YFP-H double transgenic mouse. Sarm1 deletion attenuated motor axon degeneration and neuromuscular junction denervation. Motor neuron cell bodies were also significantly protected. Deletion of Sarm1 also attenuated loss of layer V pyramidal neuronal dendritic spines in the primary motor cortex. Structural MRI identified the entorhinal cortex as the most significantly atrophic region, and histological studies confirmed a greater loss of neurons in the entorhinal cortex than in the motor cortex, suggesting a prominent FTD-like pattern of neurodegeneration in this transgenic mouse model. Despite the reduction in neuronal degeneration, Sarm1 deletion did not attenuate age-related behavioural deficits caused by TDP-43Q331K. However, Sarm1 deletion was associated with a significant increase in the viability of male TDP-43Q331K mice, suggesting a detrimental role of Wallerian-like pathways in the earliest stages of TDP-43Q331K-mediated neurodegeneration. Collectively, these results indicate that anti-SARM1 strategies have therapeutic potential in ALS-FTD.