The nematode C. elegans has a simple and stereotyped nervous
system, containing 302 neurons with a nearly complete map of all
axons and synapses (White et al., 1986). As an accessible genetic
model, C. elegans has long been used to identify and characterize
molecules that affect axon growth and guidance during initial
development. Recently, Yanik et al. and Wu et al. (Yanik et al., 2004;
Wu et al., 2007) discovered that specific axons in C. elegans are
capable of regenerating after adult-stage damage. Using
femtosecond laser ablation, a new optical scalpel that exhibits
submicrometer precision, Yanik et al. snipped the axons of
GABAergic DD/VD motoneurons in adult C. elegans and
discovered functional regeneration: snipping the axons abolished
motility, but worms regained motility within 24 hours and displayed
new axonal outgrowths, explaining the restoration of motility. Wu
et al. found that the axons of the ALM and PLM mechanosensory
neurons in C. elegans also regenerate after axotomy, but that
regeneration after injury at the adult stage can display significant
guidance errors. Wu et al. found that regenerative growth exhibits
fewer guidance errors in larval animals, as well as in adult animals
lacking the VAB-1 Eph receptor tyrosine kinase, suggesting that age
may alter the molecular requirements for axon growth and guidance.
In this study, we extend femtosecond laser ablation to different
neuronal types in C. elegans. We show that different neurons have
different capacities for adult-stage regeneration. In particular, we
discovered that the AVM mechanosensory neuron displays robust
axon regeneration after adult-stage injury. The molecular
requirements for initial axon development in the AVM
mechanosensory neurons are particularly well understood, providing
an opportunity for detailed analysis of the molecular differences for
regenerative axon growth and guidance. AVM integrates both
netrin- and slit-based cues to make its first decision in early
development: a pioneer axonal projection from the cell body to the
ventral nerve cord. During development, unc-6/netrin is expressed
in ventral nerve cord neurons (Wadsworth et al., 1996), and unc-
40/DCC is the netrin receptor that mediates ventral attraction of the
developing AVM axon (Hao et al., 2001). During development, the
dorsal body wall muscles express repellent slt-1, which facilitates
dorsal repulsion of the developing AVM axon through the sax-
3/ROBO receptors. By systematically comparing patterns in AVM
axon regeneration in wild-type animals versus mutants with specific
defects in the netrin and slit pathways, we establish distinct
molecular requirements between initial axon development and
adult-stage regeneration. Our observations show that C. elegansmay
be used to identify and characterize novel cellular and molecular
mechanisms that mediate adult-stage axon regeneration.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Nematodes were cultivated using standard protocols and maintained at 20°C
(Brenner, 1974). The following mutations and transgenes were used: LGI,
unc-40(e1430), zdIs5[mec-4::gfp, lin-15(+)]; LGIII, mig-10(ct41); LGIV,
ced-10(n1993),unc-129(ev557), unc-5(e53),evIs82[unc-129::gfp, pMH86],
kyIs179[unc-86::gfp]; and LGV, unc-34(gm104), oyIs14[sra-6::gfp, lin-
15(+)], kyIs174[slt-1::gfp]; LGX, slt-1(eh15), sax-3(ky123), unc-6(ev400);
Standard molecular biology techniques were used. To study adult-stage
expression of TGF-?, unc-129p::YFP was made by cloning the 3.5 kb unc-
129 promoter into pSM-YFP vector. Primers were designed with SphI (5?)
to BamHI (3?) to amplify the unc-129promoter and clone into corresponding
Distinct cellular and molecular mechanisms mediate initial
axon development and adult-stage axon regeneration in
Christopher V. Gabel1, Faustine Antonie2, Chiou-Fen Chuang3, Aravinthan D. T. Samuel1,* and Chieh Chang2,*
The molecular and cellular mechanisms that allow adult-stage neurons to regenerate following damage are poorly understood.
Recently, axons of motoneurons and mechanosensory neurons in adult C. elegans were found to regrow after being snipped by
femtosecond laser ablation. Here, we explore the molecular determinants of adult-stage axon regeneration using the AVM
mechanosensory neurons. The first step in AVM axon development is a pioneer axonal projection from the cell body to the ventral
nerve cord. We show that regeneration of the AVM axon to the ventral nerve cord lacks the deterministic precision of initial axon
development, requiring competition and pruning of unwanted axon branches. Nevertheless, axons of injured AVM neurons regrow
to the ventral nerve cord with over 60% reliability in adult animals. In addition, in contrast to initial development, axon guidance
during regeneration becomes heavily dependent on cytoplasmic protein MIG-10/Lamellipodin but independent of UNC-129/TGF-?
repellent and UNC-40/DCC receptor, and axon growth during regeneration becomes heavily dependent on UNC-34/Ena and CED-
10/Rac actin regulators. Thus, C. elegans may be used as a genetic system to characterize novel cellular and molecular mechanisms
underlying adult-stage nervous system regeneration.
KEY WORDS: C. elegans, Femtosecond laser axotomy, Regeneration
Development 135, 1129-1136 (2008) doi:10.1242/dev.013995
1Department of Physics and Center for Brain Science, Harvard University, Cambridge,
MA 02138, USA. 2Department of Biology and Department of Neurology and
Neurosurgery, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1B1, Canada.3Division of
Developmental Biology, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati,
OH 45229, USA.
*Authors for correspondence (e-mails: email@example.com;
Accepted 2 January 2008
sites in pSM-YFP. The mec-4p::unc-34 andmec-4p::ced-10 constructs were
made by cloning unc-34 or ced-10 cDNA into KpnI (5?) and SpeI (3?) sites
in pPD95.81 downstream of the mec-4 promoter.
Germline transformation of C. elegans was performed using standard
techniques (Mello and Fire, 1995). For example, the unc-129::YFP promoter
fusion was injected at 50 ng/?l along with the co-injection marker odr-1::gfp
at 40 ng/?l. Transgenic lines were maintained by following odr-1::gfp
fluorescence. Other transgenes maintained as extrachromosomal arrays
included: xnEx84[mec-4::unc-34, odr-1::gfp], xnEx86[mec-4::ced-10, odr-
1::gfp] and cyEx21[mec-7::mig-10a, odr-1::dsred]. The mec-4::unc-34,
mec-4::ced-10 and mec-7::mig-10 were injected at 50 ng/?l along with the
co-injection marker odr-1::gfp or odr-1::dsred at 40 ng/?l.
Our femtosecond laser set-up is shown in Fig. 1A. We used a cavity-dumped
Ti:sapphire laser oscillator (Cascade Laser, KMLabs, Boulder, CO) to
generate ~100 fs laser pulses (Clark et al., 2006). The laser output was
pruned to a 1 kHz pulse train by an Eclipse Pulse Picker (KMLabs Inc.,
Boulder, CO), which was tightly focused onto targets using a Nikon 100?,
1.4 NA oil-immersion objective. The vaporization threshold corresponds to
pulse energies of 5-15 nJ (Shen et al., 2005; Chung et al., 2006). Successful
axotomy was confirmed by visualizing targets immediately after exposure.
Neuronal morphology was based on high-magnification z-stacks using a
Nikon TE2000 fluorescence microscope. We mounted worms on 2% agar
pads containing 3 mM sodium azide, and imaged targeted neurons before
and after axotomy. Worms were recovered from sodium azide, placed on
fresh plates with bacterial foods, and reimaged after 24 hours. For time-lapse
studies, we paralyzed worms with 0.05% tetramisole (Knobel et al., 1999),
mounted them on 2% agar pads, sealed under cover glass and wax, and
captured z-stacks every 15 or 30 minutes for 15 hours. The images presented
in the figures were created from a maximum intensity projection of the
corresponding z-stack. In some cases, individual planes of the z-stacks were
modified to heighten the contrast and visibility of axonal processes.
Quantifying axon length after AVM regeneration
The axon length of regenerating neurons was quantified 24 hours after
surgery. To produce the scatter plots in Fig. 5C and Fig. 7A, we scored the
relative position of all axon termini from the dorsal and ventral midlines and
AVM cell body. Owing to the curvature of the worm’s body, two-
dimensional projections of each z-stack would underestimate axon length.
Therefore, we used image analysis software (MatLAB, Mathworks, Natick,
MA) to effectively unroll the worm’s cylindrical surface, quantifying
anteroposterior distances using the coordinate parallel to the body centerline
and dorsoventral distances along the cylindrical surface. P values for the
ventral scores were calculated using a Chi-square test for equality of
distributions. Axon lengths (Fig. 5E, Fig. 7C,D) were calculated as the actual
contour length between the cell body and axon termini, by tracing the axon
through a three-dimensional image stack. P values for the length
measurements were calculated using a Student’s t-test.
Different neuronal types have different capacities
for adult-stage axon regeneration
Yanik et al. discovered functional regeneration of axons of the
DA/DB motoneurons after adult-stage axotomy (Yanik et al.,
2004). Wu et al. established that axons of the ALM and PLM
mechanosensory neurons, as well as sensory dendrites of the AWB
chemosensory neuron, can regenerate after adult-stage injury (Wu
et al., 2007). We began the present study by examining regenerative
ability in additional types of C. elegans neurons after femtosecond
laser axotomy in young adult animals, within a few hours after the
animals exited the last larval molt (Fig. 1). We found that axons of
Development 135 (6)
Fig. 1. Axon regeneration is
exhibited by specific
(A) Schematic of femtosecond
laser system. (B-F) Axon
trajectories of ASH, AWC,
DA/DB, HSN and AVM
neurons. In each case, an
image is shown before,
immediately after and 24 hours
after surgery. D indicates the
distal end and P the proximal
end of severed axons. Red
arrows point to the laser
target. ASH and AWC axons
were snipped at their posterior
ventral projections; ASH axons
did not noticeably grow out
after 24 hours (B; n=12); AWC
axons did not grow out at all
(C; n=12). Representative
examples of successful axon
regeneration in the cholinergic
DA/DB motoneurons (D),
serotonergic HSN motoneurons
(E) and AVM mechanosensory
the ASH and AWC sensory neurons in the nerve ring within the
head typically do not regenerate after adult-stage axotomy (Fig.
1B,C). By contrast, axons of AVM mechanosensory neurons and
DA/DB and HSN motoneurons outside the nerve ring typically
regenerate within 24 hours (Figs 1D-F). Thus, different neuronal
types in C. elegansappear to exhibit different levels of regenerative
After axotomy, regenerating axons either emerge from the cell
body or as a continuation of the proximal end of the severed axon.
We found that the manner of the regenerative growth depends on the
proximity of the injury to the cell body. We quantified this effect by
systematically cutting the axons of DA/DB motoneurons at precise
distances from their cell bodies ranging from 10 ?m to 50 ?m (Fig.
2). When the injury is less than 30 ?m from the cell body, new axons
tend to emerge from the cell body. When the injury is 30 ?m or more
away, the regenerating axons tend to be continuations of the
Similar observations have been made previously in immature
hippocampal and cortical neurons (Dotti and Banker, 1987; Goslin
and Banker, 1989; Hayashi et al., 2002; Bradke and Dotti, 2000).
When hippocampal neurons are cultured in vitro after being
dissociated from the embryonic brain, they reproducibly establish a
single axon and several dendrites, despite the absence of
environmental cues. The regeneration pattern is similarly dependent
on the location of the axotomy with respect to the cell body. The
severed axon will regrow from the proximal end if the cut is farther
away from the cell body and the remaining axon stump is longer
than 35 ?m, while one of the neurites (dendrites) will grow out to
become the new axon if the cut is close to the cell body and the
remaining stump is shorter (Goslin and Banker, 1989). One
possibility is that, upon cell-body distal axotomy, greater amount of
a regulatory factor in the remaining axon stump can prevent other
parts of the neuron from producing new axons.
Axon regeneration at the adult stage involves
exploratory outgrowth and pruning
Differences in regenerative ability between different types of
neurons may depend on intrinsic factors or on local cellular
environment (Case and Tessier-Lavigne, 2005). In the present study,
we focused on the AVM mechanosensory neuron, which has proven
to be a particularly useful system for analyzing the molecular
requirements for axon growth and guidance during initial
First, we explored the spatiotemporal dynamics of regeneration
using time-lapse imaging after femtosecond laser axotomy, and
identified distinct cell biological changes that characterize adult-
stage axon regeneration. The cell body of an injured neuron sends
out fanlike, lamellipodial growth cones. Multiple axons may be
initiated from the injured neuron but not every axon reaches its
target. Unwanted axons are pruned, suggesting a process of axon
competition. In a representative series of time-lapse images (Fig. 3),
the cell body of an injured mechanosensory neuron sent its first axon
in the dorsal direction. Successive branches from the first axon failed
to approach the ventral nerve cord. After persistent failure by the
first axon, the cell body initiated a second axon in the ventral
direction. After the second axon successfully reached the ventral
nerve cord, the first axon began to retract. Some excess axons were
not completely removed even after 24 hours. Although our results
do not directly prove axon competition between regenerating axons,
they are consistent with a competition model, which might provide
an alternative explanation to the discovery by Wu et al. (Wu et al.,
2007) of an inhibitory role of a synaptic branch on PLM
regeneration. Wu et al. discovered that PLM axons cut distal to the
ventral branch point typically do not regrow, but can regrow if the
ventral branch is also severed. One possibility is that a regulatory
cue from the ventral branch can signal to the PLM cell body to either
prevent axon regrowth or promote axon pruning. Our time-lapse
imaging enabled us to identify intermediate structures during
mechanosensory axon regeneration, which seem to support a model
in which the stabilization of one axon might cause the retraction of
the other axon.
Wu et al. (Wu et al., 2007) found that regeneration of ALM and
PLM mechanosensory neurons after axotomy at larval stages tends to
exhibit fewer guidance errors than regeneration after axotomy at the
Axon development and regeneration in C. elegans
Fig. 2. Proximity of the axotomy point affects the manner of
axon regeneration in DA/DB neurons. DA/DB motoneurons were
cut at defined distances from the cell body. The total contour length of
new outgrowth from the neuron was measured 24 hours after surgery
and binned into two categories: continuing growth from the proximal
end of the severed axon or new growth initiated at the cell body. Error
bars represent ±1 s.e.m.
Fig. 3. Spatiotemporal dynamics of regenerative axon growth.
Representative patterns in axon regeneration are shown with this
mechanosensory neuron, imaged at 30-minute intervals for 15 hours
following femtosecond laser axotomy using fluorescence microscopy. The
dorsal and anterior directions are upwards and leftwards, respectively.
adult stage. Our time-lapse imaging analysis shows that regenerating
axons at the adult stage lack the deterministic precision of initial axon
development. Although we were unable to perform the same time-
lapse imaging to monitor initial axon development in the AVM
neurons, as our fluorescence marker (mec-4p::GFP) only becomes
visible in the AVM axon after its development is completed, we have
several observations suggesting that initial wiring during larval
development is rather precise. First, axon morphology after
regeneration is highly variable, whereas axon morphology after
development is stereotyped and practically indistinguishable from
worm to worm (based on inspection of more than 100 wild-type
worms). Second, pruning of unwanted axons in adult worms is often
imperfect and excess axon outgrowths are commonly observed (Fig.
4), whereas we have never observed excess axon outgrowths after
initial development. Finally, we were able to compare the effects of
different developmental ages on the extent of AVM axon regeneration
Development 135 (6)
Fig. 4. Excess axons remain 24 hours after laser
axotomy. (A) A representative example of an injured
neuron with only a primary axon 24 hours after
surgery. (B) An injured neuron with an ectopic axon
from the cell body 24 hours after surgery. (C) Excessive
axon sprouting from an injured neuron 24 hours after
surgery. Arrows indicate primary axons and
arrowheads denote ectopic axons. Scale bar: 20 ?m.
Fig. 5. Developmental stage affects axon regeneration. (A,B) Representative images showing the morphology of successful and unsuccessful
AVM axon regeneration 24 hours after injury. The dorsal and anterior directions are upwards and leftwards, respectively. In cases of successful
regeneration to the ventral nerve cord (A), we label the primary axon terminus (blue circle) at the point of innervation to the ventral nerve cord, and
label all other axon termini (red circles) as the ends of any other axon branches or outgrowths. In cases of unsuccessful regeneration to the ventral
nerve cord (B), we label the primary axon terminus (blue circle) as the end of the longest axon shaft, and label the remaining axon termini (red
circles) as the ends of any axon branches from the main shaft (e.g. the uppermost branch in B) or the ends of shorter axon shafts. (C) Scatter plots
showing the positions of regenerated axon termini in all L3, L4 and young adult animals. In the case of young adult animals, surgery was performed
shortly after the last larval molt. In the manner shown in A,B, all primary and secondary regenerating axon termini are indicated by large blue and
small red circles, respectively. In order to consolidate data from different worms, all scatter plots are scaled by each worm’s circumference. In each
scatter plot, the top line indicates the dorsal nerve cord, the bottom line indicates the ventral nerve cord and the broken line indicates the
longitudinal axis halfway between the dorsal and ventral nerve cords. The wild-type morphology of the AVM axon before surgery is drawn in green.
The distance between the top and bottom lines corresponds to half of total worm circumference, and the horizontal axis shows a proportion of
body length equivalent to about 3.5 circumferences. (D) Bar chart showing the percentage of successful ventral guidance of the regenerating AVM
axons in various stage animals based on the scatter plots shown in Fig. 5C. Asterisk indicates a case in which an early developmental stage differs
significantly from the young adult (P<0.05). (E) Bar charts of average axon length based on the scatter plots shown in C, scaled by worm
circumference (in which 1 corresponds to half of total worm circumference) and unscaled (in ?m). Axon length corresponds to the contour length
between the cell body and axon termini. Asterisks indicate cases in which an early developmental stage is significantly different from the young
adult (P<0.05). Error bars represent ±1 s.e.m.
in L3, L4 and young adult animals (Fig. 5). We cut AVM axons
halfway along their ventral projections at each developmental stage,
and found that advancing development leads to significant decrease
in the total amount of regenerative axonal outgrowth, as well as to a
significant decrease in guidance precision to the ventral nerve cord.
Taken together, these results point to significant shifts in the
regenerative capacity from larval to adult stage.
Distinct molecular requirements for initial axon
development and adult-stage axon regeneration
The current model for AVM axon guidance during initial
development is shown in Fig. 6. Mutations in either the netrin- or
slit-based guidance systems result in a 30-40% penetrant defect in
AVM ventral guidance, whereas mutations in both systems lead to
nearly complete failure (~90%) of ventral guidance (Hao et al.,
2001; Chang et al., 2004). As the AVM neuron integrates at least two
redundant guidance systems to direct its axon to the ventral nerve
cord, it is possible to analyze axon guidance mutants with wild-type
axon trajectories at the adult stage, to study whether specific
guidance molecules affect rewiring after axotomy. In this study, we
did not analyze rewiring in cases of initially aberrant axon
trajectories, as pre-existing anatomical abnormalities might hinder
subsequent axon regeneration. Furthermore, as developmental stage
affects regenerative ability of AVM neurons, a potential problem
when comparing the effects of different mutations, we carefully
controlled for developmental stage by always performing
femtosecond laser axotomy of AVM neurons in young adult animals
shortly after they exited the last larval molt.
We found that the AVM axon in unc-40/DCC mutants displayed
the same level of success in regenerating and reaching the ventral
nerve cord after adult-stage axotomy as in wild-type worms, but was
significantly less successful in unc-6/netrinmutants. One possibility
is that unc-6/netrin continues to mediate guidance in the
regenerating AVM axons of adult animals, but through an unc-
40/DCC-independent mechanism (Fig. 7A,B). The unc-5 gene
encodes an alternative netrin receptor in C. elegans. We found that
AVM axon regeneration in the unc-5mutants was indistinguishable
from wild-type animals, suggesting that the unc-5 receptor alone is
not sufficient to mediate attraction to unc-6/netrin during
regeneration (Fig. 7A,B). We note that unc-6/netrin also adopts a
significant role in anteroposterior guidance of regenerating AVM
axons, as we frequently observed regenerated AVM axons in unc-6
mutants projecting extensively in the posterior direction (30%;
n=23) in contrast to exclusively anterior projections in wild-type
worms during initial development (Fig. 7A, Fig. 8C,D).
We found that slt-1 continues to be expressed by dorsal body wall
muscles in the adult stage (Fig. 9A) and contributes to the ventral
guidance of the regenerating AVM axons. The regenerative axon
guidance defect caused by slt-1 mutation is not obvious by itself but
is revealed by its enhancing the defect caused by an unc-6 mutation
(Fig. 7B). Even in the absence of SLT-1 activity, developing AVM
axons never project to the dorsal midline (0%; n>100). By contrast,
regenerating AVM axons frequently project to the dorsal midline
(37%; n=19) (Fig. 7A, Fig. 8B). These results suggest that SLT-1 is
the major axon repellent that mediates dorsal repulsion at the adult
stage, whereas a redundant axon repellent cooperates with SLT-1
during early development to repel AVM axons away from the dorsal
A candidate redundant repellent is UNC-129/TGF-?as UNC-129,
like SLT-1, is also expressed in dorsal body wall muscles during
development (Colavita et al., 1998) and an unc-129 mutation strongly
enhances the AVM axon guidance phenotypes of slt-1 mutants (C.C.,
T. Yu and C. Bargmann, unpublished). UNC-129/TGF-? continues
to be expressed in dorsal body wall muscles at the adult stage (Fig.
9B). However, we found that unc-129 no longer exerts its effects on
adult AVM axons, as an unc-129 mutation does not enhance AVM
regenerative phenotypes of slt-1 mutants (Fig. 7A,B). One possible
explanation is that TGF-?receptor signaling might be inactivated in
adult AVM neurons. This hypothesis awaits further demonstration as
the UNC-129/TGF-? receptor has not yet been identified in C.
elegans (Colavita et al., 1998).
The signaling molecules UNC-34/Ena, CED-10/Rac and MIG-
10/Lamellipodin (Lpd) operate downstream of axon guidance
receptors during initial AVM axon development, forming two
Axon development and regeneration in C. elegans
Fig. 6. Cellular and molecular determinants of initial
axon development in AVM neuron. (A) Schematic of
the axon guidance systems used by the AVM neuron
during development. Dorsal muscles express the repellent
SLT-1/Slit (red). Ventral axons express the attractant UNC-
6/netrin (blue). (B) Schematic of signaling molecules that
operate downstream of the guidance receptors in AVM
redundant pathways that mediate axon guidance (Gitai et al., 2003;
Lundquist et al., 1998; Chang et al., 2006; Quinn et al., 2006) (Fig.
6B). Based on inspection of AVM morphology after initial
development in unc-34(gm104) and ced-10 (n1993) mutant animals
(n>100), we observed normal axon outgrowth in every animal. Thus,
both UNC-34/Ena and CED-10/Rac are not required for
developmental axon growth. By contrast, both UNC-34/Ena and
CED-10/Rac are essential for adult-stage axon regrowth (Fig. 7A,D,
Fig. 8F,G). We quantified regenerative axonal outgrowth by
measuring the average length along the contour of all primary and
secondary regenerated axons (Fig. 5A,B). Using this metric, both unc-
34 and ced-10 mutants exhibit stunted axonal outgrowth after adult-
Development 135 (6)
Fig. 7. Molecular requirements for regenerative axon growth and guidance. (A) Scatter plots (as in Fig. 5C) showing the positions of
regenerated axon termini in all wild-type, unc-6, unc-40, unc-5, slt-1, sax-3, unc-6 slt-1, unc-129 slt-1, unc-34, ced-10 and mig-10 animals. All
surgeries were performed on young adult worms, shortly after they exited the last larval molt. (B-D) Bar charts (as in Fig. 5D,E) showing the
percentage of successful ventral guidance and average axon length of the regenerating AVM axons in wild-type and mutant worms based on the
scatter plots shown in A. (B,C) Asterisks indicate cases in which mutant differs from wild-type or specific comparisons are significantly different
(P<0.05). (D) Asterisks indicate cases in which mutant differs from wild-type or rescued worms (P<0.05). Error bars represent ±1 s.e.m.
stage axotomy, which may contribute to the poor success rate with
which regenerating AVM axons in ced-10 mutants reach the ventral
midline (Fig. 7A,B). Expressing UNC-34/Ena and CED-10/Rac in the
mechanosensory neurons using the cell-type specific mec-4 promoter
rescued regenerative axon outgrowth defects of unc-34(gm104) and
ced-10(n1993)mutants, indicating that these molecules function cell
autonomously in AVM for adult-stage axon regeneration (Fig. 7D).
By the axonal length metric, the unc-6 mutation has the interesting
and quantifiable effect of enhancing regenerative axonal outgrowth,
an effect that is augmented inunc-6 slt-1double mutants (Fig. 7A,C,
We also discovered that mig-10/Lpd mutants, which exhibit
normal axon guidance during initial development (Chang et al.,
2006; Quinn et al., 2006), exhibit more extensive adult-stage axon
regrowth than wild-type animals, but less success in reaching the
ventral nerve cord (Fig. 7A-C, Fig. 8H). Expressing mig-10/Lpd
using the cell-type specific mec-7 promoter rescues this guidance
defect during regeneration in mig-10(ct41)mutants, suggesting that
MIG-10/Lpd function cell autonomously in the AVM neurons for
adult-stage axon regeneration (Fig. 7B). Taken together, our
observations suggest that MIG-10/Lpd mediates regenerative axon
guidance, whereas UNC-34/Ena and CED-10/Rac are required for
regenerative axon outgrowth. Similar functional partitioning has
been observed during initial development: MIG-10/Lpd is required
for filopodia polarization, whereas UNC-34/Ena is required for
filopodia formation (Chang et al., 2006).
Axon regeneration after traumatic injury of the adult nervous
system is a major challenge to clinical neuroscience (Case and
Tessier-Lavigne, 2005). Understanding the molecular basis for
axon regeneration in different neuronal cell types and at different
stages of development may be the key to advancing clinical
neurology from palliative care to actual cures for victims of CNS
injury. With vertebrate models such as mouse or rat, molecular
factors that affect nervous system regeneration are typically
identified through biochemical approaches. The development of
a complementary genetic approach should facilitate the
identification of new factors. The discovery that neurons in adult
C. elegans regrow after femtosecond laser axotomy suggested that
the nematode may provide a genetic model for adult-stage
Our observations uncovered specific features of adult-stage
regeneration in C. elegans that resemble clinically relevant
features of regeneration in higher mammals. In C. elegans, we
found that different neuronal cell types exhibit different capacities
for regeneration. Neurons in the worm’s head tend not to
regenerate after axotomy, but neurons in the body reliably
regenerate. Similarly, in mammals, neurons in the peripheral
nervous system tend to regenerate after traumatic injury, but
neurons in the central nervous system fail to regenerate. In C.
Axon development and regeneration in C. elegans
Fig. 8. Representative patterns of regenerated AVM axon in
wild-type and mutant worms 24 hours after axotomy in the
young adult stage. In each image, the dorsal and anterior directions
are upwards and leftwards, respectively. Scale bar: 20 ?m. (A) The wild-
type regenerated axon reaches the ventral nerve cord. (B) The AVM
axon of a slt-1 mutant reaches the dorsal midline. Anteriorly (C) and
posteriorly (D) projecting AVM axons in unc-6/netrin mutants. (E) An
AVM axon in an unc-6 slt-1 double mutant is considerably longer than
in average wild-type worms. Defective axon outgrowth in ced-10/rac1
(F) and unc-34/Ena (G) mutants. (H) Aberrant axon rewiring in a mig-
Fig. 9. Expression patterns of slt-1/slit and unc-129/TGF-? ? in
adults. (A) SLT-1 maintains its expression in dorsal body wall muscles
into adulthood. Only the mid-body region is shown. (B) UNC-129/TGF-
? is expressed at high levels in dorsal body wall muscles into adulthood.
Anterior to mid-body region is shown. Asterisks indicate the positions
of the vulvae and the arrowhead indicates the nerve ring in the head. In
each image, dorsal is upwards and anterior is leftwards. Scale bar:
elegans, we found that axotomy at the adult stage can stimulate
the formation of multiple growth cones, exploratory outgrowth
and imprecise pruning of excessive outgrowths. Similarly, in
mammals, exuberant axon sprouting can often be found at the
sites of brain lesions, which is frequently associated with post-
traumatic epilepsy. In addition, in C. elegans, we found that the
location of the axotomy with respect to the cell body affects
regeneration patterns, and that regenerative capacity is higher in
early development than in adult stage. Both are well-established
features of mammalian axonal regeneration.
In the case of the AVM neurons, we observed clear differences in
the genetic requirements between wiring during initial development
and rewiring during adult-stage regeneration. Mutations in certain
genes, e.g. unc-40/DCC and unc-129/TGF-?, have significant
effects on initial wiring without having significant effects on
rewiring. Mutations in other genes, e.g. ced-10,unc-34andmig-10,
have significant effects on rewiring without having significant
effects on initial wiring. High-throughput methods for stereotyped
femtosecond laser axotomy in C. elegans should enable unbiased,
forward genetic screens to identify new molecules that allow the
nervous system to regenerate and repair itself after traumatic injury
at the adult stage.
We thank WormBase for access to C. elegans information; E. Mazur for
sharing femtosecond laser ablation technology; C. I. Bargmann, L. Zipursky, J.
R. Sanes, L. Luo, T. Clandinin, K. Shen and L. Case for helpful discussions; C. I.
Bargmann, P. Sengupta and the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center for nematode
strains; S. Clark for mec-4 promoter; A. Fire for vectors; J. L. Liu, F. Xin, M.
Kaikhosrovi, P. A. T. Nguyen and S. Patel for strain and plasmid constructions,
microinjection, and technical support; This work was supported by grants from
the McGill University Startup funds (to C.C.), and from Sloan, McKnight, Dana
and National Science Foundations (to A.D.T.S.).
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