Gain-of-function mutations in the mouse nicotinamide mononucleotide adenylyltransferase type 1 (Nmnat1) produce two remarkable phenotypes: protection against traumatic axonal degeneration and reduced hypoxic brain injury. Despite intensive efforts, the mechanism of Nmnat1 cytoprotection remains elusive. To develop a new model to define this mechanism, we heterologously expressed a mouse Nmnat1 non-nuclear-localized gain-of-function mutant gene (m-nonN-Nmnat1) in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and show that it provides protection from both hypoxia-induced animal death and taxol-induced axonal pathology. Additionally, we find that m-nonN-Nmnat1 significantly lengthens C. elegans lifespan. Using the hypoxia-protective phenotype in C. elegans, we performed a candidate screen for genetic suppressors of m-nonN-Nmnat1 cytoprotection. Loss of function in two genes, haf-1 and dve-1, encoding mitochondrial unfolded protein response (mitoUPR) factors were identified as suppressors. M-nonN-Nmnat1 induced a transcriptional reporter of the mitoUPR gene hsp-6 and provided protection from the mitochondrial proteostasis toxin ethidium bromide. M-nonN-Nmnat1 was also protective against axonal degeneration in C. elegans induced by the chemotherapy drug taxol. Taxol markedly reduced basal expression of a mitoUPR reporter; the expression was restored by m-nonN-Nmnat1. Taken together, these data implicate the mitoUPR as a mechanism whereby Nmnat1 protects from hypoxic and axonal injury.