Axons are long, thin, and critically important for neuronal communication in the body. When an axon is damaged, it undergoes a stereotyped set of molecular and cellular changes resulting in its fragmentation and loss, destroying its connection with target cells. In the central nervous system, axons are unable to regenerate, while in the peripheral nervous system, the process is slow and often painful. Importantly, while many types of insults trigger axon degeneration, the molecules activated by these insults are often the same. By understanding the initiation and execution of the basic process of axon degeneration, we have an opportunity to impact the treatment of many neurodegenerative diseases ranging from chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (a common and severe side effect of cancer treatment) to Alzheimer's Disease.
We take advantage of two model systems in the lab: the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) and the mouse (Mus musculus). Each has distinct advantages that enable our dual organism approach to be entirely complementary and will help drive new discoveries. Shown below are terminals of some of our favorite neurons: motor neurons responsible for body movement, and sensory terminals responsible for detecting touch and temperature.