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Passenger mutations confound phenotypes of SARM1-deficient mice

By Melissa B. Uccellini, Susana V. Bardina, Maria Teresa Sánchez-Aparicio, Kris M. White, Ying-Ju Hou, Jean K. Lim, Adolfo Garcia-Sastre

Posted 18 Oct 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/802702 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.03.062)

The Toll/IL-1R domain-containing adaptor protein SARM1 is expressed primarily in the brain, where it mediates axonal degeneration. Additional roles for SARM1 in a number of other processes including TLR-signaling, viral infection, chemokine expression, and expression of the proapoptotic protein XAF1 have also been described. Much of the supporting evidence for SARM1 function has been generated by comparing WT C57BL/6 (B6) mice to SARM1-deficient mice backcrossed to the B6 background. Here we show that the Sarm1 gene lies in a gene-rich region encompassing XAF1, and the MIP and MCP chemokine family loci among other genes. Because gene-targeting of SARM1-deficient strains was done with 129 ES cells and these genes are too close to segregate, they remain 129 in sequence. As this could account for phenotypes attributed to SARM1, we generated new knockout mouse strains on a pure B6 background using CRISPR. Experiments in these new strains confirmed the role of SARM1 in axonal degeneration and susceptibility to WNV infection, but not in susceptibility to VSV or LACV infection, or chemokine or Xaf1 expression. Notably, the Xaf1 gene shows sequence variation between B6 and 129, resulting in coding changes and novel splice variants. Given its known role in apoptosis, XAF1 variants may account for some phenotypes described in previously made SARM1-deficient strains. RNAseq in the new strains reveal changes in the mitochondrial electron transport chain and ribosomal proteins, suggesting possible downstream targets of SARM1. Re-evaluation of described phenotypes in these new strains will be critical for defining the function of SARM1.

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