Mitochondrial defects are tightly linked to axon degeneration, yet the underlying cellular mechanisms remain poorly understood. In C. elegans, PVQ axons that lack mitochondria degenerate spontaneously with age. Using an unbiased genetic screen, we found that cell-specific activation of CaMKII/UNC-43 suppresses axon degeneration due to loss of mitochondria. Unexpectedly, CaMKII/UNC-43 protects against degeneration through the conserved Sarm1/TIR-1-ASK1/NSY-1 MAPK pathway. In addition, we show that disrupting a trafficking complex composed of calsyntenin/CASY-1, Mint/LIN-10, and kinesin suppresses axon degeneration. Further analysis indicates that disruption of this trafficking complex activates the CaMKII-Sarm1-MAPK pathway through L-type voltage-gated calcium channels. Our findings identify CaMKII as a pivot point between mitochondrial defects and axon degeneration, describe how it is regulated in this context, and uncover a surprising neuroprotective role for the Sarm1-ASK1 pathway.
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