Axons in the adult mammalian nervous system can extend over formidable distances, up to one meter or more in humans. During development, axonal and dendritic growth requires continuous addition of new membrane. Of the three major kinds of membrane lipids, phospholipids are the most abundant in all cell membranes, including neurons. Not only immature axons, but also severed axons in the adult require large amounts of lipids for axon regeneration to occur. Lipids also serve as energy storage, signaling molecules and they contribute to tissue physiology, as demonstrated by a variety of metabolic disorders in which harmful amounts of lipids accumulate in various tissues through the body. Detrimental changes in lipid metabolism and excess accumulation of lipids contribute to a lack of axon regeneration, poor neurological outcome and complications after a variety of central nervous system (CNS) trauma including brain and spinal cord injury. Recent evidence indicates that rewiring lipid metabolism can be manipulated for therapeutic gain, as it favors conditions for axon regeneration and CNS repair. Here, we review the role of lipids, lipid metabolism and ectopic lipid accumulation in axon growth, regeneration and CNS repair. In addition, we outline molecular and pharmacological strategies to fine-tune lipid composition and energy metabolism in neurons and non-neuronal cells that can be exploited to improve neurological recovery after CNS trauma and disease.
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