Distal axonopathy with structural persistence in glaucomatous neurodegeneration
An early hallmark of neuronal degeneration is distal transport loss and axon pathology. Glaucoma involves the degeneration of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) neurons and their axons in the optic nerve. Here we show that, like other neurodegenerations, distal axon injury appears early in mouse glaucoma. Where RGC axons terminate in the superior colliculus, reduction of active transport follows a retinotopic pattern resembling glaucomatous vision loss. Like glaucoma, susceptibility to transport deficits increases with age and is not necessarily associated with elevated ocular pressure. Transport deficits progress distal-to-proximal, appearing in the colliculus first followed by more proximal secondary targets and then the optic tract. Transport persists through the optic nerve head before finally failing in the retina. Although axon degeneration also progresses distal-to-proximal, myelinated RGC axons and their presynaptic terminals persist in the colliculus well after transport fails. Thus, distal transport loss is predegenerative and may represent a therapeutic target.