Reprogramming axonal behavior by axon-specific viral transduction

B. A. Walker, U. Hengst, H. J. Kim, N. L. Jeon, E. F. Schmidt, N. Heintz, T. A. Milner, S. R. Jaffrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The treatment of axonal disorders, such as diseases associated with axonal injury and degeneration, is limited by the inability to directly target therapeutic protein expression to injured axons. Current gene therapy approaches rely on infection and transcription of viral genes in the cell body. Here, we describe an approach to target gene expression selectively to axons. Using a genetically engineered mouse containing epitope-labeled ribosomes, we find that neurons in adult animals contain ribosomes in distal axons. To use axonal ribosomes to alter local protein expression, we utilized a Sindbis virus containing an RNA genome that has been modified so that it can be directly used as a template for translation. Selective application of this virus to axons leads to local translation of heterologous proteins. Furthermore, we demonstrate that selective axonal protein expression can be used to modify axonal signaling in cultured neurons, enabling axons to grow over inhibitory substrates typically encountered following axonal injury. We also show that this viral approach also can be used to achieve heterologous expression in axons of living animals, indicating that this approach can be used to alter the axonal proteome in vivo. Together, these data identify a novel strategy to manipulate protein expression in axons, and provides a novel approach for using gene therapies for disorders of axonal function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)947-955
Number of pages9
JournalGene Therapy
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Sindbis
  • axon regeneration
  • viral vector gene transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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