Nature 457, 981-989 (19 February 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature07767; Received 24 May 2008; Accepted 31 December 2008

APP binds DR6 to trigger axon pruning and neuron death via distinct caspases

Anatoly Nikolaev1, Todd McLaughlin2, Dennis D. M. O'Leary2 & Marc Tessier-Lavigne1

  1. Division of Research, Genentech, Inc., 1 DNA Way, South San Francisco, California 94080, USA
  2. Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, The Salk Institute, 10010 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, California 92037, USA

Correspondence to: Marc Tessier-Lavigne1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.T.-L. (Email:


Naturally occurring axonal pruning and neuronal cell death help to sculpt neuronal connections during development, but their mechanistic basis remains poorly understood. Here we report that beta-amyloid precursor protein (APP) and death receptor 6 (DR6, also known as TNFRSF21) activate a widespread caspase-dependent self-destruction program. DR6 is broadly expressed by developing neurons, and is required for normal cell body death and axonal pruning both in vivo and after trophic-factor deprivation in vitro. Unlike neuronal cell body apoptosis, which requires caspase 3, we show that axonal degeneration requires caspase 6, which is activated in a punctate pattern that parallels the pattern of axonal fragmentation. DR6 is activated locally by an inactive surface ligand(s) that is released in an active form after trophic-factor deprivation, and we identify APP as a DR6 ligand. Trophic-factor deprivation triggers the shedding of surface APP in a beta-secretase (BACE)-dependent manner. Loss- and gain-of-function studies support a model in which a cleaved amino-terminal fragment of APP (N-APP) binds DR6 and triggers degeneration. Genetic support is provided by a common neuromuscular junction phenotype in mutant mice. Our results indicate that APP and DR6 are components of a neuronal self-destruction pathway, and suggest that an extracellular fragment of APP, acting via DR6 and caspase 6, contributes to Alzheimer's disease.


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