The inherited epilepsy Unverricht-Lundborg disease (EPM1) is caused by loss-of-function mutations in the cysteine protease inhibitor, cystatin B. Because cystatin B inhibits a class of lysosomal cysteine proteases called cathepsins, we hypothesized that increased proteolysis by one or more of these cathepsins is likely to be responsible for the seizure, ataxia, and neuronal apoptosis phenotypes characteristic of EPM1. To test this hypothesis and to identify which cysteine cathepsins contribute to EPM1, we have genetically removed three candidate cathepsins from cystatin B-deficient mice and tested for rescue of their EPM1 phenotypes. Whereas removal of cathepsins L or S from cystatin B-deficient mice did not ameliorate any aspect of the EPM1 phenotype, removal of cathepsin B resulted in a 36-89% reduction in the amount of cerebellar granule cell apoptosis depending on mouse age. The incidence of an incompletely penetrant eye phenotype was also reduced upon removal of cathepsin B. Because the apoptosis and eye phenotypes were not abolished completely and the ataxia and seizure phenotypes experienced by cystatin B-deficient animals were not diminished, this suggests that another molecule besides cathepsin B is also responsible for the pathogenesis, or that another molecule can partially compensate for cathepsin B function. These findings establish cathepsin B as a contributor to the apoptotic phenotype of cystatin B-deficient mice and humans with EPM1. They also suggest that the identification of cathepsin B substrates may further reveal the molecular basis for EPM1.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.