Natural variants of human SARM1 cause both intrinsic and dominant loss-of-function influencing axon survival.


SARM1 is a central executioner of programmed axon death, and this role requires intrinsic NAD(P)ase or related enzyme activity. A complete absence of SARM1 robustly blocks axon degeneration in mice, but even a partial depletion confers meaningful protection. Since axon loss contributes substantially to the onset and progression of multiple neurodegenerative disorders, lower inherent SARM1 activity is expected to reduce disease susceptibility in some situations. We, therefore, investigated whether there are naturally occurring SARM1 alleles within the human population that encode SARM1 variants with loss-of-function. Out of the 18 natural SARM1 coding variants we selected as candidates, we found that 10 display loss-of-function in three complimentary assays: they fail to robustly deplete NAD in transfected HEK 293T cells; they lack constitutive and NMN-induced NADase activity; and they fail to promote axon degeneration in primary neuronal cultures. Two of these variants are also able to block axon degeneration in primary culture neurons in the presence of endogenous, wild-type SARM1, indicative of dominant loss-of-function. These results demonstrate that SARM1 loss-of-function variants occur naturally in the human population, and we propose that carriers of these alleles will have different degrees of reduced susceptibility to various neurological conditions.