Selective neuronal vulnerability is characteristic of most degenerative disorders of the CNS, yet mechanisms underlying this phenomenon remain poorly characterized. Many forms of cerebellar degeneration exhibit an anterior-to-posterior gradient of Purkinje cell loss including Niemann-Pick type C1 (NPC) disease, a lysosomal storage disorder characterized by progressive neurological deficits that often begin in childhood. Here, we sought to identify candidate genes underlying vulnerability of Purkinje cells in anterior cerebellar lobules using data freely available in the Allen Brain Atlas. This approach led to the identification of 16 candidate neuroprotective or susceptibility genes. We demonstrate that one candidate gene, heat shock protein beta-1 (HSPB1), promoted neuronal survival in cellular models of NPC disease through a mechanism that involved inhibition of apoptosis. Additionally, we show that over-expression of wild type HSPB1 or a phosphomimetic mutant in NPC mice slowed the progression of motor impairment and diminished cerebellar Purkinje cell loss. We confirmed the modulatory effect of Hspb1 on Purkinje cell degeneration in vivo, as knockdown by Hspb1 shRNA significantly enhanced neuron loss. These results suggest that strategies to promote HSPB1 activity may slow the rate of cerebellar degeneration in NPC disease and highlight the use of bioinformatics tools to uncover pathways leading to neuronal protection in neurodegenerative disorders.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Cancer Research