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Primary traumatic axonopathy in mice subjected to impact acceleration: a reappraisal of pathology and mechanisms with high-resolution anatomical methods

Ziogas, NK;Koliatsos, VE;

Traumatic axonal injury (TAI) is a common neuropathology in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and is featured by primary injury to axons. Here, we generated TAI with impact acceleration of the head (IA) in male Thy1-eYFP-H transgenic mice in which specific populations of neurons and their axons are labeled with yellow fluorescent protein (YFP). This model results in axonal lesions in multiple axonal tracts along with blood brain barrier (BBB) disruption and neuroinflammation. The corticospinal tract (CST), a prototypical long tract, is severely affected and is the focus of this study. Using optimized CLARITY at single axon resolution, we visualized the entire CST volume from the pons to the cervical spinal cord in 3D and counted the total number of axonal lesions and their progression over time. Our results divulged the presence of progressive traumatic axonopathy that was maximal at the pyramidal decussation. The perikarya of injured corticospinal neurons atrophied, but there was no evidence of neuronal cell death. We also used CLARITY at single axon resolution to explore the role of the NMNAT2-SARM1 axonal self-destruction pathway in traumatic axonopathy. When we interfered with this pathway by genetically ablating SARM1 or by pharmacologically increasing levels of Nicotinamide (Nam), the prototypical SARM1 inhibitor, we found a significant reduction in the number of axonal lesions early after injury. Our findings show that high-resolution neuroanatomical strategies reveal important features of TAI with biological implications, especially the progressive axonopathic nature of TAI and the role of the NMNAT2-SARM1 pathway in the early stages of axonopathy.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTIn the first systematic application of novel high-resolution neuroanatomical tools in neuropathology, we combined CLARITY with 2-photon microscopy, optimized for detection of single axonal lesions, to reconstruct the injured mouse brain stem in a model of traumatic axonal injury that is a common pathology associated with traumatic brain injury. The 3D reconstruction of the corticospinal tract at single-axon resolution allowed for a more advanced level of qualitative and quantitative understanding of TAI. Using this model, we showed that TAI is an axonopathy with a prominent role of the NMNAT2-SARM1 molecular pathway, that is also implicated in peripheral neuropathy. Our results indicate that high-resolution anatomical models of TAI afford a level of detail and sensitivity that is ideal for testing novel molecular and biomechanical hypotheses. Copyright 2018 the authors.