Peripheral nerve injury induces a robust proregenerative program that drives axon regeneration. While many regeneration-associated genes are known, the mechanisms by which injury activates them are less well-understood. To identify such mechanisms, we performed a loss-of-function pharmacological screen in cultured adult mouse sensory neurons for proteins required to activate this program. Well-characterized inhibitors were present as injury signaling was induced but were removed before axon outgrowth to identify molecules that block induction of the program. Of 480 compounds, 35 prevented injury-induced neurite regrowth. The top hits were inhibitors to heat shock protein 90 (HSP90), a chaperone with no known role in axon injury. HSP90 inhibition blocks injury-induced activation of the proregenerative transcription factor cJun and several regeneration-associated genes. These phenotypes mimic loss of the proregenerative kinase, dual leucine zipper kinase (DLK), a critical neuronal stress sensor that drives axon degeneration, axon regeneration, and cell death. HSP90 is an atypical chaperone that promotes the stability of signaling molecules. HSP90 and DLK show two hallmarks of HSP90-client relationships: (i) HSP90 binds DLK, and (ii) HSP90 inhibition leads to rapid degradation of existing DLK protein. Moreover, HSP90 is required for DLK stability in vivo, where HSP90 inhibitor reduces DLK protein in the sciatic nerve. This phenomenon is evolutionarily conserved in Drosophila. Genetic knockdown of Drosophila HSP90, Hsp83, decreases levels of Drosophila DLK, Wallenda, and blocks Wallenda-dependent synaptic terminal overgrowth and injury signaling. Our findings support the hypothesis that HSP90 chaperones DLK and is required for DLK functions, including proregenerative axon injury signaling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E9899-E9908
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number42
StatePublished - Oct 16 2018


  • Axon regeneration
  • DLK
  • HSP90
  • Highwire ligase
  • Injury signaling


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