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, whereas 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 a 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 that 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.
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