Previous studies indicate that while transgenic mice with ATXN1[30Q]-D776-induced disease share pathological features caused by ATXN1[82Q] having an expanded polyglutamine tract, they fail to manifest the age-related progressive neurodegeneration seen in SCA1. The shared features include morphological alterations in climbing fiber (CF) innervation of Purkinje cells (PCs). To further investigate the ability of ATXN1 to impact CF/PC innervation, this study used morphological and functional approaches to examine CF/PC innervation during postnatal development in ATXN1[30Q]-D776 and ATXN1[82Q] cerebella. Notably, ATXN1[30Q]-D776 induced morphological alterations consistent with the development of the innervation of PCs by CFs being compromised, including a reduction of CF translocation along the PC dendritic tree, and decreased pruning of CF terminals from the PC soma. Like previously shown for ATXN1[82Q], ATXN1[30Q]-D776 must enter the nucleus of PCs to induce these alterations. Experiments using conditional ATXN1[30Q]-D776 mice demonstrate that both the levels and specific timing of mutant ATXN1expression are critical for alteration of the CF-PC synapse. Together these observations suggest that ATXN1, expressed exclusively in PCs, alters expression of a gene(s) in the postsynaptic PC that are critical for its innervation by CFs. To investigate whether ATXN1[30Q]-D776 curbs the progressive disease in ATXN1[82Q]-S776 mice, we crossed ATXN1[30Q]-D776 and ATXN1[82Q]-S776 mice and found that double transgenic mice developed progressive PC atrophy. Thus, the results also show that to develop progressive cerebellar degeneration requires expressing ATXN1 with an expanded polyglutamine tract.
Mutations in the X-linked MECP2 cause Rett syndrome, a devastating neurological disorder typified by a period of apparently normal development followed by loss of cognitive and psychomotor skills. Data from rare male patients suggest symptom onset and severity can be influenced by the location of the mutation, with amino acids 270 and 273 marking the difference between neonatal encephalopathy and death, on the one hand, and survival with deficits on the other. We therefore generated two mouse models expressing either MeCP2-R270X or MeCP2-G273X. The mice developed phenotypes at strikingly different rates and showed differential ATRX nuclear localization within the nervous system, over time, coinciding with phenotypic progression. We discovered that MeCP2 contains three AT-hook-like domains over a stretch of 250 amino acids, like HMGA DNA-bending proteins; one conserved AT-hook is disrupted in MeCP2-R270X, lending further support to the notion that one of MeCP2’s key functions is to alter chromatin structure.
We have shown that lithium treatment improves motor coordination in a spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) disease mouse model (Sca1154Q/+). To learn more about disease pathogenesis and molecular contributions to the neuroprotective effects of lithium, we investigated metabolomic profiles of cerebellar tissue and plasma from SCA1-model treated and untreated mice. Metabolomic analyses of wild-type and Sca1154Q/+ mice, with and without lithium treatment, were performed using gas chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry and BinBase mass spectral annotations. We detected 416 metabolites, of which 130 were identified. We observed specific metabolic perturbations in Sca1154Q/+ mice and major effects of lithium on metabolism, centrally and peripherally. Compared to wild-type, Sca1154Q/+ cerebella metabolic profile revealed changes in glucose, lipids, and metabolites of the tricarboxylic acid cycle and purines. Fewer metabolic differences were noted in Sca1154Q/+ mouse plasma versus wild-type. In both genotypes, the major lithium responses in cerebellum involved energy metabolism, purines, unsaturated free fatty acids, and aromatic and sulphur-containing amino acids. The largest metabolic difference with lithium was a 10-fold increase in ascorbate levels in wild-type cerebella (p<0.002), with lower threonate levels, a major ascorbate catabolite. In contrast, Sca1154Q/+ mice that received lithium showed no elevated cerebellar ascorbate levels. Our data emphasize that lithium regulates a variety of metabolic pathways, including purine, oxidative stress and energy production pathways. The purine metabolite level, reduced in the Sca1154Q/+ mice and restored upon lithium treatment, might relate to lithium neuroprotective properties.
The DNA binding protein methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) critically influences neuronal and brain function by modulating gene expression, and children with overexpression of the MECP2 gene exhibit postnatal neurological syndromes. We demonstrate that some children with MECP2 duplication also display variable immunological abnormalities that include reductions in memory T and B cells and natural killer cells and immunoglobulin assay responses. Moreover, whereas mice with MeCP2 overexpression were unable to control infection with the intra-macrophage parasite Leishmania major and secrete interferon-γ (IFN-γ) from involved lymph nodes, they were able to control airway fungal infection by Aspergillus niger and mount protective T helper cell type 2 (TH2)–dependent allergic responses. Relative to normal T cells, TH cells from children and mice with MECP2 duplication displayed similar impairments in IFN-γ secretion and TH1 responses that were due to both MeCP2-dependent suppression of IFN-γ transcription and sequestration of the IFN-γ locus as assessed by chromatin immunoprecipitation assay. Thus, overexpressed MeCP2 aberrantly suppresses IFN-γ secretion from TH cells, potentially leading to a partially immunodeficient state. Our findings establish a rational basis for identifying, treating, and preventing infectious complications potentially affecting children with MECP2 duplication.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are rare quiescent cells that continuously replenish the cellular components of the peripheral blood. Observing that the ataxia-associated gene Ataxin-1-like (Atxn1L) was highly expressed in HSCs, we examined its role in HSC function through in vitro and in vivo assays. Mice lacking Atxn1L had greater numbers of HSCs that regenerated the blood more quickly than their wild-type counterparts. Molecular analyses indicated Atxn1L null HSCs had gene expression changes that regulate a program consistent with their higher level of proliferation, suggesting that Atxn1L is a novel regulator of HSC quiescence. To determine if additional brain-associated genes were candidates for hematologic regulation, we examined genes encoding proteins from autism- and ataxia-associated protein–protein interaction networks for their representation in hematopoietic cell populations. The interactomes were found to be highly enriched for proteins encoded by genes specifically expressed in HSCs relative to their differentiated progeny. Our data suggest a heretofore unappreciated similarity between regulatory modules in the brain and HSCs, offering a new strategy for novel gene discovery in both systems.
Our labs, working separately on brain function and blood stem cells, noticed that a particular gene involved in movement disorders was also expressed in the blood system. We discovered through bone marrow transplantation experiments that this gene, called Ataxin-1-like, normally plays a role in restricting the number of blood-forming stem cells; stem cells lacking this gene were more numerous and more active. We wondered if this brain-blood similarity would hold for a larger number of genes, so we used bioinformatics approaches to compare large datasets our labs had generated from each system. We found that a surprising number of genes implicated in autism and ataxia by molecular studies were also highly expressed in blood-forming stem cells. We suggest that such cross-system comparisons could be used more widely to discover genes with important functions in brain and blood, but also perhaps other systems.
Hindbrain neuronal networks serving respiratory, proprioceptive, and arousal functions share a developmental requirement for the bHLH transcription factor Atoh1. Loss of Atoh1 in mice results in respiratory failure and neonatal lethality; however, the neuronal identity and mechanism by which Atoh1-dependent cells sustain newborn breathing remains unknown. We uncovered that selective loss of Atoh1 from the post-mitotic retrotrapezoid nucleus (RTN) neurons results in severely impaired inspiratory rhythm and pronounced neonatal death. Mice that escape neonatal death develop abnormal chemoresponsiveness as adults. Interestingly, the expression of Atoh1 in the RTN neurons is not required for their specification or maintenance, but is important for their proper localization and to establish essential connections with the preBötzinger Complex (preBötC). These results provide insights into the genetic regulation of neonatal breathing and shed light on the labile sites that might contribute to sudden death in newborn infants and altered chemoresponsiveness in adults.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by expansion of a CAG repeat encoding a polyglutamine tract in ATXN7, a component of the SAGA histone acetyltransferase (HAT) complex. Previous studies provided conflicting evidence regarding the effects of polyQ–ATXN7 on the activity of Gcn5, the HAT catalytic subunit of SAGA. Here, we report that reducing Gcn5 expression accelerates both cerebellar and retinal degeneration in a mouse model of SCA7. Deletion of Gcn5 in Purkinje cells in mice expressing wild-type (wt) Atxn7, however, causes only mild ataxia and does not lead to the early lethality observed in SCA7 mice. Reduced Gcn5 expression strongly enhances retinopathy in SCA7 mice, but does not affect the known transcriptional targets of Atxn7, as expression of these genes is not further altered by Gcn5 depletion. These findings demonstrate that loss of Gcn5 functions can contribute to the time of onset and severity of SCA7 phenotypes, and suggest that non-transcriptional functions of SAGA may play a role in neurodegeneration in this disease.
In September of 2011, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the International Rett Syndrome Foundation (IRSF) and the Rett Syndrome Research Trust (RSRT) convened a workshop involving a broad cross-section of basic scientists, clinicians and representatives from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the pharmaceutical industry and private foundations to assess the state of the art in animal studies of Rett syndrome (RTT). The aim of the workshop was to identify crucial knowledge gaps and to suggest scientific priorities and best practices for the use of animal models in preclinical evaluation of potential new RTT therapeutics. This review summarizes outcomes from the workshop and extensive follow-up discussions among participants, and includes: (1) a comprehensive summary of the physiological and behavioral phenotypes of RTT mouse models to date, and areas in which further phenotypic analyses are required to enhance the utility of these models for translational studies; (2) discussion of the impact of genetic differences among mouse models, and methodological differences among laboratories, on the expression and analysis, respectively, of phenotypic traits; and (3) definitions of the standards that the community of RTT researchers can implement for rigorous preclinical study design and transparent reporting to ensure that decisions to initiate costly clinical trials are grounded in reliable preclinical data.
Genomic duplications spanning Xq28 are associated with a spectrum of phenotypes including anxiety and autism. The minimal region shared among affected individuals includes MECP2 and IRAK1, however, it is unclear which gene, when overexpressed, causes anxiety and social behavior deficits. We report that doubling MeCP2 levels causes heightened anxiety and autism-like features in mice, and alters the expression of genes that influence anxiety and social behavior, such as Crh and Oprm1. To test the hypothesis that alterations in these two genes contribute to the heightened anxiety and social behavior deficits, we analyzed MECP2 duplication mice (MECP2-TG1) with reduced Crh and Oprm1 levels. In MECP2-TG1 animals, reducing Crh, or its receptor, Crhr1, suppresses anxiety-like behavior; in contrast, reducing Oprm1 improves abnormal social behavior. These data demonstrate that increased MeCP2 levels impact molecular pathways underlying anxiety and social behavior, and provide novel insight into potential therapies for MECP2-related disorders.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease caused by expansion of a translated CAG repeat in Ataxin-1 (ATXN1). To determine the long-term effects of exercise, we implemented a mild exercise regimen in a mouse model of SCA1 and found a considerable improvement in survival accompanied by upregulation of epidermal growth factor and consequential downregulation of Capicua, an ATXN1 interactor. Offspring of Capicua mutant mice bred to SCA1 mice showed significant improvement of all disease phenotypes. Although polyglutamine-expanded Atxn1 caused some loss of Capicua function, further reducing Capicua levels, either genetically or by exercise, mitigated the disease phenotypes. Thus, exercise might have long-term beneficial effects in other ataxias and neurodegenerative diseases.
We identified complex genomic rearrangements consisting of intermixed duplications and triplications of genomic segments at both the MECP2 and PLP1 loci. These complex rearrangements were characterized by a triplicated segment embedded within a duplication in 12 unrelated subjects. Interestingly, only two novel breakpoint junctions were generated during each rearrangement formation. Remarkably, all the complex rearrangement products share the common genomic organization duplication-inverted triplication-duplication (DUP-TRP/INV-DUP) wherein the triplicated segment is inverted and located between directly oriented duplicated genomic segments. We provide evidence that the DUP-TRP/INV-DUP structures are mediated by inverted repeats that can be separated by over 300 kb; a genomic architecture that apparently leads to susceptibility to such complex rearrangements. A similar inverted repeat mediated mechanism may underlie structural variation in many other regions of the human genome. We propose a mechanism that involves both homology driven, via inverted repeats, and microhomologous/nonhomologous events.
BIR; inversion; MMBIR; MECP2; PLP1; duplication; complex rearrangements
Although expansion of CAG repeats in ATAXIN1 (ATXN1) causes Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1, the functions of ATXN1 and ATAXIN1-Like (ATXN1L) remain poorly understood. To investigate the function of these proteins, we generated and characterized Atxn1L−/− and Atxn1−/−; Atxn1L−/− mice. Atxn1L−/− mice have hydrocephalus, omphalocoele and lung alveolarization defects. These phenotypes are more penetrant and severe in Atxn1−/−; Atxn1L−/− mice, suggesting that Atxn1 and Atxn1L are functionally redundant. Upon pursuing the molecular mechanism, we discovered that several Matrix metalloproteinase (Mmp) genes are overexpressed and that the transcriptional repressor Capicua (Cic) is destabilized in Atxn1L−/− lungs. Consistent with this, Cic deficiency causes lung alveolarization defect. Loss of either Atxn1L or Cic derepresses Etv4, an activator for Mmp genes, thereby mediating Mmp9 overexpression. These findings demonstrate a critical role of ATXN1/ATXN1L-CIC complexes in extracellular matrix (ECM) remodeling during development and their potential roles in pathogenesis of disorders affecting ECM remodeling.
Neural basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors are crucial in regulating the differentiation and neuronal subtype specification of neurons. Precisely how these transcription factors direct such processes is largely unknown due to the lack of bona fide targets in vivo. Genetic evidence suggests that bHLH factors have shared targets in their common differentiation role, but unique targets with respect to their distinct roles in neuronal subtype specification. However, whether neuronal subtype specific targets exist remains an unsolved question. To address this question, we focused on Atoh1 (Math1), a bHLH transcription factor that specifies distinct neuronal subtypes of the proprioceptive pathway in mammals including the dorsal interneuron 1 (dI1) population of the developing spinal cord. We identified transcripts unique to the Atoh1-derived lineage using microarray analyses of specific bHLH-sorted populations from mouse. Chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing (ChIP-seq) experiments followed by enhancer reporter analyses identified five direct neuronal subtype specific targets of Atoh1 in vivo along with their Atoh1-responsive enhancers. These targets, Klf7, Rab15, Rassf4, Selm, and Smad7, have diverse functions that range from transcription factors to regulators of endocytosis and signaling pathways. Only Rab15 and Selm are expressed across several different Atoh1-specified neuronal subtypes including external granule cells (EGL) in the developing cerebellum, hair cells of the inner ear, and Merkel cells. Our work establishes on a molecular level that neuronal differentiation bHLH transcription factors have distinct lineage-specific targets.
To uncover shared pathogenic mechanisms among the highly heterogeneous autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), we developed a protein interaction network that identified hundreds of new interactions among proteins encoded by ASD-associated genes. We discovered unexpectedly high connectivity between SHANK and TSC1, previously implicated in syndromic autism, suggesting that common molecular pathways underlie autistic phenotypes in distinct syndromes. ASD patients were more likely to harbor CNVs that encompass network genes than control subjects. We also identified, in patients with idiopathic ASD, three de novo lesions (deletions in 16q23.3 and 15q22 and one duplication in Xq28) that involve three network genes (NECAB2, PKM2, and FLNA). The protein interaction network thus provides a framework for identifying causes of idiopathic autism and for understanding molecular pathways that underpin both syndromic and idiopathic ASDs.
There can be little doubt that genetics has transformed our understanding of mechanisms mediating brain disorders. The last two decades have brought tremendous progress in terms of accurate molecular diagnoses and knowledge of the genes and pathways that are involved in a large number of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Likewise, new methods and analytical approaches, including genome array studies and “next-generation” sequencing technologies, are bringing us deeper insights into the subtle complexities of the genetic architecture that determines our risks for these disorders. As we now seek to translate these discoveries back to clinical applications, a major challenge for the field will be in bridging the gap between genes and biology. In this Overview of Neuron’s special review issue on neurogenetics, we reflect on progress made over the last two decades and highlight the challenges as well as the exciting opportunities for the future.
Glutamine tract expansion triggers nine neurodegenerative diseases by conferring toxic properties to the mutant protein. In SCA1, phosphorylation of ATXN1 at Ser776 is thought to be key for pathogenesis. Here we show that replacing Ser776 with a phospho-mimicking Asp converted ATXN1 with a wild type glutamine tract into a pathogenic protein. ATXN1[30Q]-D776-induced disease in Purkinje cells shared most features with disease caused by ATXN1[82Q] having an expanded polyglutamine tract. However, in contrast to disease induced by ATXN1[82Q] that progresses to cell death, ATXN1[30Q]-D776 failed to induce cell death. These results support a model where pathogenesis involves changes in regions of the protein in addition to the polyglutamine tract. In ATXN1, placing an Asp at residue 776 mimics this change. Moreover, disease initiation and progression to neuronal dysfunction are distinct from induction of cell death. Ser776 is critical for the pathway to neuronal dysfunction, while an expanded polyglutamine tract is essential for neuronal death.
Background: Phosphorylation at Ser-776 of the polyglutamine disease-associated protein Ataxin-1 modulates its function.
Results: 14-3-3 binding stabilizes Ataxin-1 by blocking dephosphorylation of pS776 and impedes Ataxin-1 transport to the nucleus.
Conclusion: 14-3-3 must disassociate from Ataxin-1 for its transport to the nucleus.
Significance: 14-3-3 regulates Ataxin-1 function by protecting phosphorylation of Ser-776 and Ataxin-1 entry into the nucleus.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) is a lethal neurodegenerative disorder caused by expansion of a polyglutamine tract in ATXN1. A prominent site of pathology in SCA1 is cerebellar Purkinje neurons where mutant ATXN1 must enter the nucleus to cause disease. In SCA1, phosphorylation of ATXN1 at Ser-776 modulates disease. Interestingly, Ser-776 is located within a region of ATXN1 that harbors several functional motifs including binding sites for 14-3-3, and splicing factors RBM17 and U2AF65. The interaction of ATXN1 with these proteins is thought to be regulated by the phosphorylation status of Ser-776. In addition, Ser-776 is adjacent to the NLS in ATXN1. Although pS776-ATXN1 is enriched in nuclear extracts of cerebellar cells, the vast majority of 14-3-3 is in the cytoplasmic fraction. We found that dephosphorylation of cytoplasmic pS776-ATXN1 is blocked by virtue of it being in a complex with 14-3-3. In addition, data suggest that binding of 14-3-3 to cytoplasmic ATXN1 impeded its transport to the nucleus, suggesting that 14-3-3 must disassociate from ATXN1 for transport of ATXN1 to the nucleus. Consistent with this hypothesis is the observation that once in the nucleus pS776 is able to be dephosphorylated. Evidence is presented that PP2A is the pS776-ATXN1 phosphatase in the mammalian cerebellum. In the nucleus, we propose that dephosphorylation of pS776-ATXN1 by PP2A regulates the interaction of ATXN1 with the splicing factors RBM17 and U2AF65.
Ataxia; Neurodegeneration; Nuclear Translocation; Phosphatase; PP2A; 14-3-3
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a heterogeneous group of neuro-developmental disorders. While significant progress has been made in the identification of genes and copy number variants associated with syndromic autism, little is known to date about the etiology of idiopathic non-syndromic autism. Sanger sequencing of 21 known autism susceptibility genes in 339 individuals with high-functioning, idiopathic ASD revealed de novo mutations in at least one of these genes in 6 of 339 probands (1.8%). Additionally, multiple events of oligogenic heterozygosity were seen, affecting 23 of 339 probands (6.8%). Screening of a control population for novel coding variants in CACNA1C, CDKL5, HOXA1, SHANK3, TSC1, TSC2 and UBE3A by the same sequencing technology revealed that controls were carriers of oligogenic heterozygous events at significantly (P < 0.01) lower rate, suggesting oligogenic heterozygosity as a new potential mechanism in the pathogenesis of ASDs.
Mutations in the X-linked MECP2, which encodes the transcriptional regulator methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) cause Rett syndrome (RTT) and several neurodevelopmental disorders including cognitive disorders, autism, juvenile-onset schizophrenia, and encephalopathy with early lethality. RTT is characterized by apparently normal early development followed by regression, motor abnormalities, seizures, and features of autism, especially stereotyped behaviors. The mechanisms mediating these striking features are poorly understood. Here we show that mice lacking Mecp2 from γ-amino-butyric-acid-(GABA)-ergic neurons recapitulate numerous RTT and autistic features, including repetitive behaviors. Loss of MeCP2 from a subset of forebrain GABAergic neurons also recapitulates many features of RTT. MeCP2-deficient GABAergic neurons show reduced inhibitory quantal size consistent with presynaptic reduction in glutamic acid decarboxylase-1 and -2 levels and GABA immunoreactivity. These data demonstrate that MeCP2 is critical for normal GABAergic neuronal function and that subtle dysfunction of GABAergic neurons contributes to numerous neuropsychiatric phenotypes.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) is one of nine dominantly inherited neurodegenerative diseases caused by polyglutamine tract expansion. In SCA1, the expanded polyglutamine tract is in the ataxin-1 (ATXN1) protein. ATXN1 is part of an in vivo complex with retinoid acid receptor-related orphan receptor alpha (Rora) and the acetyltransferase tat-interactive protein 60 kDa (Tip60). ATXN1 and Tip60 interact directly via the ATXN1 and HMG-box protein 1 (AXH) domain of ATXN1. Moreover, the phospho-mimicking Asp amino acid at position 776, previously shown to enhance pathogenesis, increases the ability of ATXN1 to interact with Tip60. Using a genetic approach, the biological relevance of the ATXN1/Tip60 interaction was assessed by crossing ATXN1[82Q] mice with Tip60+/−animals. Partial Tip60 loss increased Rora and Rora-mediated gene expression and delayed ATXN1-mediated cerebellar degeneration during mid-stage disease progression. These results suggested a specific, temporal role for Tip60 during disease progression. We also showed that genetic background modulated ATXN1[82Q]-induced phenotypes. Of interest, these latter studies showed that some phenotypes are enhanced on a mixed background while others are suppressed.
There have been no objective assessments to determine whether boys with MECP2 duplication have autism or whether female carriers manifest phenotypes. This study characterizes the clinical and neuropsychiatric phenotypes of affected boys and carrier females.
Eight families (9 males and 9 females) with MECP2 duplication participated. A detailed history, physical examination, electroencephalogram, developmental evaluation, Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, and Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised was performed for each boy. Carrier females completed the Symptom Checklist-90-R, Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire, and detailed medical and mental health histories. Size and gene content of each duplication were determined by array-CGH. X-chromosome inactivation patterns were analyzed using leukocyte DNA. MECP2 and IRAK1 RNA levels were quantified from lymphoblast cell lines, and Western blots were performed to assess MeCP2 protein levels.
All of the boys demonstrate mental retardation and autism. Poor expressive language, gaze avoidance, repetitive behaviors, anxiety, and atypical socialization were prevalent. Female carriers have psychiatric symptoms including generalized anxiety, depression, and compulsions that preceded the birth of their children. The majority exhibited features of the broad autism phenotype and had higher nonverbal compared to verbal reasoning skills.
Autism is a defining feature of the MECP2 duplication syndrome in boys. Females manifest phenotypes despite 100% skewing of X-inactivation and normal MECP2 RNA levels in peripheral blood. Analysis of the duplication size, MECP2 and IRAK1 RNA levels, and MeCP2 protein levels revealed that most of the traits in affected boys are likely due to the genomic region spanning MECP2 and IRAK1. The phenotypes observed in carrier females may be secondary to tissue-specific dosage alterations and require further study.
Spinocerebellar ataxias 6 and 7 (SCA6 and SCA7) are neurodegenerative disorders caused by expansion of CAG repeats encoding polyglutamine (polyQ) tracts in CACNA1A, the alpha1A subunit of the P/Q-type calcium channel, and ataxin-7 (ATXN7), a component of a chromatin-remodeling complex, respectively. We hypothesized that finding new protein partners for ATXN7 and CACNA1A would provide insight into the biology of their respective diseases and their relationship to other ataxia-causing proteins. We identified 118 protein interactions for CACNA1A and ATXN7 linking them to other ataxia-causing proteins and the ataxia network. To begin to understand the biological relevance of these protein interactions within the ataxia network, we used OMIM to identify diseases associated with the expanded ataxia network. We then used Medicare patient records to determine if any of these diseases co-occur with hereditary ataxia. We found that patients with ataxia are at 3.03-fold greater risk of these diseases than Medicare patients overall. One of the diseases comorbid with ataxia is macular degeneration (MD). The ataxia network is significantly (P= 7.37 × 10−5) enriched for proteins that interact with known MD-causing proteins, forming a MD subnetwork. We found that at least two of the proteins in the MD subnetwork have altered expression in the retina of Ataxin-7266Q/+ mice suggesting an in vivo functional relationship with ATXN7. Together these data reveal novel protein interactions and suggest potential pathways that can contribute to the pathophysiology of ataxia, MD, and diseases comorbid with ataxia.
Mice lacking the proneural transcription factor Math1 (Atoh1) lack multiple neurons of the proprioceptive and arousal systems and die shortly after birth from an apparent inability to initiate respiration. We sought to determine whether Math1 was necessary for the development of hindbrain nuclei involved in respiratory rhythm generation, such as the parafacial respiratory group/retrotrapezoid nucleus (pFRG/RTN), defects in which are associated with Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS). Using a new Math1-GFP fusion allele, we traced the development of Math1-expressing pFRG/RTN and paratrigeminal neurons and found that loss of Math1 did indeed disrupt their migration and differentiation. We also identified new Math1-dependent neurons and their projections in the pre-Bötzinger complex, a structure critical for respiratory rhythmogenesis, and found that glutamatergic modulation reestablished a rhythm in the absence of Math1. This study identifies Math1-dependent neurons that are critical for perinatal breathing that may link proprioception and arousal with respiration.