Orr BO, et al. Neuron 2020.
Progressive synapse loss is an inevitable and insidious part of age-related neurodegenerative disease. Typically, synapse loss precedes symptoms of cognitive and motor decline. This suggests the existence of compensatory mechanisms that can temporarily counteract the effects of ongoing neurodegeneration. Here, we demonstrate that presynaptic homeostatic plasticity (PHP) is induced at degenerating neuromuscular junctions, mediated by an evolutionarily conserved activity of presynaptic ENaC
channels in both Drosophila and mouse. To assess the consequence of eliminating PHP in a mouse model of ALS-like degeneration, we generated a motoneuron-specific deletion of Scnn1a, encoding the ENaC channel alpha subunit. We show that Scnn1a is essential for PHP without adversely affecting baseline neural function or lifespan. However, Scnn1a knockout in a degeneration-causing mutant background accelerated motoneuron loss and disease progression to twice the rate observed in littermate controls with intact PHP. We propose a model of neuroprotective homeostatic plasticity, extending organismal lifespan and health span.