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1.  Recessive Mutations in SPTBN2 Implicate β-III Spectrin in Both Cognitive and Motor Development 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(12):e1003074.
β-III spectrin is present in the brain and is known to be important in the function of the cerebellum. Heterozygous mutations in SPTBN2, the gene encoding β-III spectrin, cause Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 5 (SCA5), an adult-onset, slowly progressive, autosomal-dominant pure cerebellar ataxia. SCA5 is sometimes known as “Lincoln ataxia,” because the largest known family is descended from relatives of the United States President Abraham Lincoln. Using targeted capture and next-generation sequencing, we identified a homozygous stop codon in SPTBN2 in a consanguineous family in which childhood developmental ataxia co-segregates with cognitive impairment. The cognitive impairment could result from mutations in a second gene, but further analysis using whole-genome sequencing combined with SNP array analysis did not reveal any evidence of other mutations. We also examined a mouse knockout of β-III spectrin in which ataxia and progressive degeneration of cerebellar Purkinje cells has been previously reported and found morphological abnormalities in neurons from prefrontal cortex and deficits in object recognition tasks, consistent with the human cognitive phenotype. These data provide the first evidence that β-III spectrin plays an important role in cortical brain development and cognition, in addition to its function in the cerebellum; and we conclude that cognitive impairment is an integral part of this novel recessive ataxic syndrome, Spectrin-associated Autosomal Recessive Cerebellar Ataxia type 1 (SPARCA1). In addition, the identification of SPARCA1 and normal heterozygous carriers of the stop codon in SPTBN2 provides insights into the mechanism of molecular dominance in SCA5 and demonstrates that the cell-specific repertoire of spectrin subunits underlies a novel group of disorders, the neuronal spectrinopathies, which includes SCA5, SPARCA1, and a form of West syndrome.
Author Summary
β-III spectrin is present in the brain and is known to be important in the function of the cerebellum. Mutations in β-III spectrin cause spinocerebellar ataxia type 5 (SCA5), sometimes called Lincoln ataxia because it was first described in the relatives of United States President Abraham Lincoln. This is generally an adult-onset progressive cerebellar disorder. Recessive mutations have not previously been described in any of the brain spectrins. We identified a homozygous mutation in SPTBN2, which causes a more severe disorder than SCA5, with a developmental cerebellar ataxia, which is present from childhood; in addition there is marked cognitive impairment. We call this novel condition SPARCA1 (Spectrin-associated Autosomal Recessive Cerebellar Ataxia type 1). This condition could be caused by two separate gene mutations; but we show, using a combination of genome-wide mapping, whole-genome sequencing, and detailed behavioural and neuropathological analysis of a β-III spectrin mouse knockout, that both the ataxia and cognitive impairment are caused by the recessive mutations in β-III spectrin. SPARCA1 is one of a family of neuronal spectrinopathies and illustrates the importance of spectrins in brain development and function.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003074
PMCID: PMC3516553  PMID: 23236289
2.  Combining Comparative Proteomics and Molecular Genetics Uncovers Regulators of Synaptic and Axonal Stability and Degeneration In Vivo 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(8):e1002936.
Degeneration of synaptic and axonal compartments of neurons is an early event contributing to the pathogenesis of many neurodegenerative diseases, but the underlying molecular mechanisms remain unclear. Here, we demonstrate the effectiveness of a novel “top-down” approach for identifying proteins and functional pathways regulating neurodegeneration in distal compartments of neurons. A series of comparative quantitative proteomic screens on synapse-enriched fractions isolated from the mouse brain following injury identified dynamic perturbations occurring within the proteome during both initiation and onset phases of degeneration. In silico analyses highlighted significant clustering of proteins contributing to functional pathways regulating synaptic transmission and neurite development. Molecular markers of degeneration were conserved in injury and disease, with comparable responses observed in synapse-enriched fractions isolated from mouse models of Huntington's disease (HD) and spinocerebellar ataxia type 5. An initial screen targeting thirteen degeneration-associated proteins using mutant Drosophila lines revealed six potential regulators of synaptic and axonal degeneration in vivo. Mutations in CALB2, ROCK2, DNAJC5/CSP, and HIBCH partially delayed injury-induced neurodegeneration. Conversely, mutations in DNAJC6 and ALDHA1 led to spontaneous degeneration of distal axons and synapses. A more detailed genetic analysis of DNAJC5/CSP mutants confirmed that loss of DNAJC5/CSP was neuroprotective, robustly delaying degeneration in axonal and synaptic compartments. Our study has identified conserved molecular responses occurring within synapse-enriched fractions of the mouse brain during the early stages of neurodegeneration, focused on functional networks modulating synaptic transmission and incorporating molecular chaperones, cytoskeletal modifiers, and calcium-binding proteins. We propose that the proteins and functional pathways identified in the current study represent attractive targets for developing therapeutics aimed at modulating synaptic and axonal stability and neurodegeneration in vivo.
Author Summary
In diseases affecting the nervous system, such as Alzheimer's disease and motor neuron disease, the breakdown of synaptic connections between neurons is a critical early event, contributing to disease onset and progression. However, we still know very little about the molecular machinery present in synaptic and axonal compartments of neurons that regulate their stability and cause breakdown during neurodegeneration. In this study we examined the protein composition of healthy and degenerating synapse-enriched fractions isolated from the brains of mice in order to identify early molecular changes occurring during neurodegeneration. We identified a range of proteins and cellular pathways that were modulated in synapse-enriched fractions during the early phases of degeneration, many of which were already known to regulate synaptic function. Similar molecular alterations were found in synapse-enriched fractions prepared from mouse models of Huntington's disease (HD) and spinocerebellar ataxia type 5. Data from these proteomic studies were then used to design experiments in Drosophila, in which we found that at least six of the individual proteins modified in degenerating synapses from mice were capable of independently regulating neuronal stability and degeneration in vivo. Designing novel therapeutics to target these proteins and pathways may help to delay or prevent neurodegeneration across a range of diseases.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002936
PMCID: PMC3431337  PMID: 22952455
3.  β-III spectrin is critical for development of Purkinje cell dendritic tree and spine morphogenesis 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2011;31(46):16581-16590.
Mutations in the gene encoding β-III spectrin give rise to spinocerebellar ataxia type 5 (SCA5), a neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive thinning of the molecular layer, loss of Purkinje cells and increasing motor deficits. A mouse lacking full-length β-III spectrin (β-III−/−) displays a similar phenotype. In vitro and in vivo analyses of Purkinje cells lacking β-III spectrin, reveal a critical role for β-III spectrin in Purkinje cell morphological development. Disruption of the normally well-ordered dendritic arborization occurs in Purkinje cells from β-III−/− mice, specifically showing a loss of monoplanar organization, smaller average dendritic diameter and reduced densities of Purkinje cell spines and synapses. Early morphological defects appear to affect distribution of dendritic, but not axonal, proteins. This study confirms that thinning of the molecular layer associated with disease pathogenesis is a consequence of Purkinje cell dendritic degeneration, as Purkinje cells from 8-month old β-III−/− mice have drastically reduced dendritic volumes, surface areas and total dendritic lengths compared to 5–6 week old β-III−/− mice. These findings highlight a critical role of β-III spectrin in dendritic biology and are consistent with an early developmental defect in β-III−/− mice, with abnormal Purkinje cell dendritic morphology potentially underlying disease pathogenesis.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3332-11.2011
PMCID: PMC3374928  PMID: 22090485
4.  β-III spectrin mutation L253P associated with spinocerebellar ataxia type 5 interferes with binding to Arp1 and protein trafficking from the Golgi 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;19(18):3634-3641.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 5 (SCA5) is an autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorder caused by mutations in β-III spectrin. A mouse lacking full-length β-III spectrin has a phenotype closely mirroring symptoms of SCA5 patients. Here we report the analysis of heterozygous animals, which show no signs of ataxia or cerebellar degeneration up to 2 years of age. This argues against haploinsufficiency as a disease mechanism and points towards human mutations having a dominant-negative effect on wild-type (WT) β-III spectrin function. Cell culture studies using β-III spectrin with a mutation associated with SCA5 (L253P) reveal that mutant protein, instead of being found at the cell membrane, appears trapped in the cytoplasm associated with the Golgi apparatus. Furthermore, L253P β-III spectrin prevents correct localization of WT β-III spectrin and prevents EAAT4, a protein known to interact with β-III spectrin, from reaching the plasma membrane. Interaction of β-III spectrin with Arp1, a subunit of the dynactin–dynein complex, is also lost with the L253P substitution. Despite intracellular accumulation of proteins, this cellular stress does not induce the unfolded protein response, implying the importance of membrane protein loss in disease pathogenesis. Incubation at lower temperature (25°C) rescues L253P β-III spectrin interaction with Arp1 and normal protein trafficking to the membrane. These data provide evidence for a dominant-negative effect of an SCA5 mutation and show for the first time that trafficking of both β-III spectrin and EAAT4 from the Golgi is disrupted through failure of the L253P mutation to interact with Arp1.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddq279
PMCID: PMC2928133  PMID: 20603325
5.  Loss of β-III spectrin leads to Purkinje cell dysfunction recapitulating the behaviour and neuropathology of SCA5 in humans 
Mutations in SPTBN2, the gene encoding β-III spectrin, cause spinocerebellar ataxia type 5 in humans (SCA5), a neurodegenerative disorder resulting in loss of motor coordination. How these mutations give rise to progressive ataxia and what the precise role β-III spectrin plays in normal cerebellar physiology are unknown. We developed a mouse lacking full length β-III spectrin and found that homozygous mice reproduced features of SCA5 including gait abnormalities, tremor, deteriorating motor coordination, Purkinje cell loss and cerebellar atrophy (molecular layer thinning). In vivo analysis reveals an age-related reduction in simple spike firing rate in surviving β-III−/− Purkinje cells while in vitro studies show these neurons to have reduced spontaneous firing, smaller sodium currents and dysregulation of glutamatergic neurotransmission. Our data suggest an early loss of EAAT4- (protein interactor of β-III spectrin) and subsequent loss of GLAST-mediated uptake may play a role in neuronal pathology. These findings implicate a loss of β-III spectrin function in SCA5 pathogenesis and indicate there are at least two physiological effects of β-III spectrin loss that underpin a progressive loss of inhibitory cerebellar output, namely an intrinsic Purkinje cell membrane defect due to reduced sodium currents and alterations in glutamate signaling.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6065-09.2010
PMCID: PMC2857506  PMID: 20371805
ataxia; cerebellum; motor coordination; glutamate transporters; excitotoxicity; neurodegeneration
6.  Control of synaptic vesicle endocytosis by an extracellular signalling molecule 
Nature Communications  2013;4:2394.
Signalling cascades control multiple aspects of presynaptic function. Synaptic vesicle endocytosis was assumed to be exempt from modulation, due to its essential role maintaining synaptic vesicle supply and thus neurotransmission. Here we show that brain-derived neurotrophic factor arrests the rephosphorylation of the endocytosis enzyme dynamin I via an inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase 3. This event results in a selective inhibition of activity-dependent bulk endocytosis during high-intensity firing. Furthermore, the continued presence of brain-derived neurotrophic factor alleviates the rundown of neurotransmission during high activity. Thus, synaptic strength can be modulated by extracellular signalling molecules via a direct inhibition of a synaptic vesicle endocytosis mode.
Synaptic vesicle endocytosis is required for neurotransmission at nerve terminals. Smillie et al. show that brain-derived neurotrophic factor inhibits a specific type of synaptic vesicle endocytosis, which reverses the depression of neurotransmission observed during high-intensity stimulation.
doi:10.1038/ncomms3394
PMCID: PMC3778765  PMID: 23999152

Results 1-6 (6)