J Neurosci , May 2022

A Critical Role for DLK and LZK in Axonal Repair in the Mammalian Spinal Cord

Junmi M Saikia, Carmine L Chavez-Martinez, Noah D Kim, Sahar Allibhoy, Hugo J Kim, Lidiya Simonyan, Samraa Smadi, Kristen M Tsai, Daniel Romaus-Sanjurjo, Yishi Jin, Binhai Zheng

The limited ability for axonal repair after spinal cord injury underlies long-term functional impairment. Dual leucine-zipper kinase [DLK; MAP kinase kinase kinase 12; MAP3K12] is an evolutionarily conserved MAP3K implicated in neuronal injury signaling from Caenorhabditis elegans to mammals. However, whether DLK or its close homolog leucine zipper kinase (LZK; MAP3K13) regulates axonal repair in the mammalian spinal cord remains unknown. Here, we assess the role of endogenous DLK and LZK in the regeneration and compensatory sprouting of corticospinal tract (CST) axons in mice of both sexes with genetic analyses in a regeneration competent background provided by PTEN deletion. We found that inducible neuronal deletion of both DLK and LZK, but not either kinase alone, abolishes PTEN deletion-induced regeneration and sprouting of CST axons, and reduces naturally-occurring axon sprouting after injury. Thus, DLK/LZK-mediated injury signaling operates not only in injured neurons to regulate regeneration, but also unexpectedly in uninjured neurons to regulate sprouting. Deleting DLK and LZK does not interfere with PTEN/mTOR signaling, indicating that injury signaling and regenerative competence are independently controlled. Together with our previous study implicating LZK in astrocytic reactivity and scar formation, these data illustrate the multicellular function of this pair of MAP3Ks in both neurons and glia in the injury response of the mammalian spinal cord.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Functional recovery after spinal cord injury is limited because of a lack of axonal repair in the mammalian CNS. Dual leucine-zipper kinase (DLK) and leucine zipper kinase (LZK) are two closely related protein kinases that have emerged as regulators of neuronal responses to injury. However, their role in axonal repair in the mammalian spinal cord has not been described. Here, we show that DLK and LZK together play critical roles in axonal repair in the mammalian spinal cord, validating them as potential targets to promote repair and recovery after spinal cord injury. In addition to regulating axonal regeneration from injured neurons, both kinases also regulate compensatory axonal growth from uninjured neurons, indicating a more pervasive role in CNS repair than originally anticipated.


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