Elucidating the reversibility of ataxia
Heterozygous and recently identified homozygous mutations in the SPTBN2 gene, encoding b-III spectrin, are implicated in spinocerebellar ataxia type 5 (SCA5) and spectrin-associated autosomal recessive cerebellar ataxia type 1 (SPARCA1), respectively. Our mouse model, lacking b-III spectrin (KO), mimics the progressive human phenotype displaying motor deficiencies as well as reduced Purkinje cell firing frequency followed by dendritic tree degeneration and cell death. The aims of this study were to evaluate progression of Purkinje cell degeneration following loss of b-III spectrin function and determine whether the reintroduction of C-terminus (C-trm) of b-III spectrin to the cerebellum is enough to halt, alleviate or reverse the disease phenotype. Additionally, this study investigated whether the abnormal electrophysiological and morphological phenotypes of Purkinje cells from KO mice are re-capitulated in a primary cerebellar culture and if so, whether they could be rescued by modulating calcium signaling. Morphological and histological analyses revealed that Purkinje cell degeneration is not uniform throughout the cerebellum of KO mice with Purkinje cells from posterior cerebellar regions possessing significantly smaller dendritic trees when compared to anterior cerebellum (p=0.0003, N=4-6, n=11-29). Similarly, significant reduction in Purkinje cell density was observed in posterior, not anterior regions of KO mice when compared to WT animals (p=0.014, N=3) and reduced tonic firing is most significant in Purkinje cells from the posterior cerebellum compared to WT mice (p=0.0328, N=3-6, n=11-29), with posterior KO PCs appearing to have elevated input resistance. Two-week expression of C-trm b-III spectrin in 3-month old KO animals significantly reduced Purkinje cell input resistance when compared to non-transduced cells (p=0.0139, N=4-5, n=15), but no effect was seen 9 months after viral injection. In contrast, a difference in cell surface area was no longer detected between WT and KO animals at 12 months of age following 9-months of viral expression. Nevertheless, using the elevated beam test motor deterioration was still observed 5 months after surgery (p=0.0023, N=4). In contrast, earlier stereotaxic injections at 6-weeks of age had a positive effect on mice motor performance with no deterioration in performance detected 5 months after the surgery. Latency to stay on the rotarod at 3 rpm was also significantly extended 6 months after stereotaxic injections at 6-weeks of age with slower motor deterioration (p=0.0348, N=6). In primary cerebellar cultures, Purkinje cells from KO animals exhibit an abnormal morphology with significantly more dendritic branches (p<0.0001, N=4-7, n=35-69) and a larger total dendritic length (p=0.0079). Chronic application of 2 μM mibefradil, a T-type calcium channel blocker, was observed to reduce total dendritic length and branching in KO animal cultures bringing these morphological measurements closer to WT Purkinje cell levels. Finally although after 14 days in vitro 40% of Purkinje cells were found to be spontaneously firing, no significant difference in firing frequency (p=0.9434) or input resistance (p=0.8434, N=4, n=6-10) was detectable between WT and KO cultures. In summary, Purkinje cells in posterior cerebellar regions of KO mice were found to be more susceptible to dendritic degeneration and cellular death than cells in the anterior cerebellum. Expression of C-trm b-III spectrin at 3 months of age had an immediate effect on cell input resistance and a modest effect on Purkinje cell morphology but no effect on motor decline. Viral injections at 6-weeks of age, however, significantly slowed motor decline. Although an abnormal KO cell morphology could be successfully recapitulated in primary cell culture, it was not possible to discern any differences in electrophysiological properties. Nevertheless, the abnormal cell morphology was successfully modified in vitro by manipulating calcium signaling via T-type calcium channels.