Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is an adult-onset incurable motor neuron (MN) disease. The reasons for selective MN vulnerability in ALS are unknown. Axonal pathology is among the earliest signs of ALS. We searched for novel modulatory genes in human MN axon shortening affected by TARDBP mutations. In transcriptome analysis of RNA present in the axon compartment of human-derived induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived MNs, PHOX2B (paired-like homeobox protein 2B) showed lower expression in TARDBP mutant axons, which was consistent with axon qPCR and in situ hybridization. PHOX2B mRNA stability was reduced in TARDBP mutant MNs. Furthermore, PHOX2B knockdown reduced neurite length in human MNs. Finally, phox2b knockdown in zebrafish induced short spinal axons and impaired escape response. PHOX2B is known to be highly express in other types of neurons maintained after ALS progression. Collectively, TARDBP mutations induced loss of axonal resilience, which is an important ALS-related phenotype mediated by PHOX2B downregulation.
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