Neurons in Niemann-Pick disease type C accumulate gangliosides as well as unesterified cholesterol and undergo dendritic and axonal alterations

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2001 Jan;60(1):49-64. doi: 10.1093/jnen/60.1.49.


Niemann-Pick disease type C (NPC) is a lethal neurologic storage disorder of children most often caused by a defect in the protein NPC1. To better understand the disease we thoroughly characterized the cellular and morphological alterations occurring in murine, feline, and human NPC. Using immunocytochemistry and filipin histochemistry we show that both gangliosides and unesterified cholesterol are differentially stored in neurons of the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and hippocampus, as well as in liver. Double fluorescence labeling revealed that GM2 ganglioside and unesterified cholesterol were partially co-localized in vesicular structures, and triple fluorescence labeling utilizing a LAMP-1 antibody identified many of these organelles as part of the late endosomal/lysosomal pathway. These observations, coupled with the proposed role of NPC1 in intracellular cholesterol movement, suggest that GM3 and GM2 gangliosides as well as unesterified cholesterol may be retrogradely cleared from late endosomes/lysosomes by an NPC1-dependent mechanism. Cellular consequences of the NPC metabolic defect as shown by parvalbumin immunocytochemistry and rapid Golgi staining, respectively, revealed characteristic axonal spheroids on GABAergic neurons and ectopic dendritogenesis that followed a species-specific gradient of: mouse < feline < human. These studies suggest that the homeostatic regulation of gangliosides and cholesterol in neurons is mediated by NPC1 and that perturbations in this mechanism cause a complex neuronal storage disorder.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Axons / pathology*
  • Cats
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Dendrites / pathology*
  • Esterification
  • Filipin / metabolism
  • G(M2) Ganglioside / metabolism
  • Gangliosides / metabolism*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Lysosome-Associated Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Niemann-Pick Diseases / genetics
  • Niemann-Pick Diseases / metabolism*
  • Niemann-Pick Diseases / pathology*
  • Parvalbumins / metabolism
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Reference Values


  • Antigens, CD
  • Gangliosides
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Lysosome-Associated Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Npc1 protein, mouse
  • Parvalbumins
  • Proteins
  • G(M2) Ganglioside
  • Filipin
  • Cholesterol