SARM1 is the central executioner of pathological axon degeneration, promoting axonal demise in response to axotomy, traumatic brain injury, and neurotoxic chemotherapeutics that induce peripheral neuropathy. SARM1 is an injury-activated NAD+ cleavage enzyme, and this NADase activity is required for the pro-degenerative function of SARM1. At present, SARM1 function is assayed by either analysis of axonal loss, which is far downstream of SARM1 enzymatic activity, or via NAD+ levels, which are regulated by many competing pathways. Here we explored the utility of measuring cADPR, a product of SARM1-dependent cleavage of NAD+, as an in cell and in vivo biomarker of SARM1 enzymatic activity. We find that SARM1 is a major producer of cADPR in cultured dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons, sciatic nerve, and brain, demonstrating that SARM1 has basal activity in the absence of injury. Following injury, there is a dramatic SARM1-dependent increase in the levels of axonal cADPR that precedes morphological axon degeneration. In vivo, there is also a rapid and large injury-stimulated increase in cADPR in sciatic and optic nerves. The increase in cADPR after injury is proportional to SARM1 gene dosage, suggesting that SARM1 activity is the prime regulator of cADPR levels. The role of cADPR as an important calcium mobilizing agent prompted exploration of its functional contribution to axon degeneration. We used multiple bacterial and mammalian engineered enzymes to manipulate cADPR levels in neurons but found no changes in the time course of axonal degeneration, suggesting that cADPR is unlikely to be an important contributor to the degenerative mechanism. Using cADPR as a SARM1 biomarker, we find that SARM1 can be partially activated by a diverse array of mitochondrial toxins administered at doses that do not induce axon degeneration. Hence, the subcritical activation of SARM1 induced by mitochondrial dysfunction may contribute to the axonal vulnerability common to many neurodegenerative diseases. Finally, we assay levels of both nerve cADPR and plasma neurofilament light chain (NfL) following nerve injury in vivo, and demonstrate that both biomarkers are excellent readouts of SARM1 activity, with cADPR reporting the early molecular changes in the nerve and NfL reporting subsequent axonal breakdown. The identification and characterization of cADPR as a SARM1 biomarker will help identify neurodegenerative diseases in which SARM1 contributes to axonal loss and expedite target validation studies of SARM1-directed therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113252
JournalExperimental Neurology
StatePublished - Jul 2020


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