Canavan disease and the role of N-acetylaspartate in myelin synthesis

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2006 Jun 27;252(1-2):216-23. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2006.03.016. Epub 2006 May 2.


Canavan disease (CD) is an autosomal-recessive neurodegenerative disorder caused by inactivation of the enzyme aspartoacylase (ASPA, EC due to mutations. ASPA releases acetate by deacetylation of N-acetylaspartate (NAA), a highly abundant amino acid derivative in the central nervous system. CD results in spongiform degeneration of the brain and severe psychomotor retardation, and the affected children usually die by the age of 10. The pathogenesis of CD remains a matter of inquiry. Our hypothesis is that ASPA actively participates in myelin synthesis by providing NAA-derived acetate for acetyl CoA synthesis, which in turn is used for synthesis of the lipid portion of myelin. Consequently, CD results from defective myelin synthesis due to a deficiency in the supply of the NAA-derived acetate. The demonstration of the selective localization of ASPA in oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system (CNS) is consistent with the acetate deficiency hypothesis of CD. We have tested this hypothesis by determining acetate levels and studying myelin lipid synthesis in the ASPA gene knockout model of CD, and the results provided the first direct evidence in support of this hypothesis. Acetate supplementation therapy is proposed as a simple and inexpensive therapeutic approach to this fatal disease, and progress in our preclinical efforts toward this goal is presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Aspartic Acid / deficiency
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Canavan Disease / metabolism*
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Myelin Basic Protein / biosynthesis*


  • Myelin Basic Protein
  • Aspartic Acid
  • N-acetylaspartate