A new glucocerebrosidase-deficient neuronal cell model provides a tool to probe pathophysiology and therapeutics for Gaucher disease

Wendy Westbroek, Matthew Nguyen, Marina Siebert, Taylor Lindstrom, Robert A. Burnett, Elma Aflaki, Olive Jung, Rafael Tamargo, Jorge L. Rodriguez-Gil, Walter Acosta, An Hendrix, Bahafta Behre, Nahid Tayebi, Hideji Fujiwara, Rohini Sidhu, Benoit Renvoise, Edward I. Ginns, Amalia Dutra, Evgenia Pak, Carole CramerDaniel S. Ory, William J. Pavan, Ellen Sidransky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Glucocerebrosidase is a lysosomal hydrolase involved in the breakdown of glucosylceramide. Gaucher disease, a recessive lysosomal storage disorder, is caused by mutations in the gene GBA1. Dysfunctional glucocerebrosidase leads to accumulation of glucosylceramide and glycosylsphingosine in various cell types and organs. Mutations in GBA1 are also a common genetic risk factor for Parkinson disease and related synucleinopathies. In recent years, research on the pathophysiology of Gaucher disease, the molecular link between Gaucher and Parkinson disease, and novel therapeutics, have accelerated the need for relevant cell models with GBA1 mutations. Although induced pluripotent stem cells, primary rodent neurons, and transfected neuroblastoma cell lines have been used to study the effect of glucocerebrosidase deficiency on neuronal function, these models have limitations because of challenges in culturing and propagating the cells, low yield, and the introduction of exogenous mutant GBA1. To address some of these difficulties, we established a high yield, easy-to-culture mouse neuronal cell model with nearly complete glucocerebrosidase deficiency representative of Gaucher disease. We successfully immortalized cortical neurons from embryonic null allele gba-/-mice and the control littermate (gba+/+) by infecting differentiated primary cortical neurons in culture with an EF1α-SV40T lentivirus. Immortalized gba-/- neurons lack glucocerebrosidase protein and enzyme activity, and exhibit a dramatic increase in glucosylceramide and glucosylsphingosine accumulation, enlarged lysosomes, and an impaired ATP-dependent calcium-influx response; these phenotypical characteristics were absent in gba+/+ neurons. This null allele gba-/- mouse neuronal model provides a much-needed tool to study the pathophysiology of Gaucher disease and to evaluate new therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)769-778
Number of pages10
JournalDMM Disease Models and Mechanisms
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Gaucher disease
  • Glucocerebrosidase
  • Glucosylceramide
  • Glucosylsphingosine
  • Neuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Immunology and Microbiology (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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