Background: Dystonia musculorum (dt) is an autosomal recessive hereditary neuropathy with a characteristic uncoordinated movement and is caused by a defect in the bullous pemphigoid antigen 1 (BPAG1) gene. The neural isoform of BPAG1 is expressed in various neurons, including those in the central and peripheral nerve systems of mice. However, most previous studies on neuronal degeneration in BPAG1-deficient mice focused on peripheral sensory neurons and only limited investigation of the autonomic system has been conducted.
Methods: In this study, patterns of nerve innervation in cutaneous and iridial tissues were examined using general neuronal marker protein gene product 9.5 via immunohistochemistry. To perform quantitative analysis of the autonomic neuronal number, neurons within the lumbar sympathetic and parasympathetic ciliary ganglia were calculated. In addition, autonomic neurons were cultured from embryonic dt/dt mutants to elucidate degenerative patterns in vitro. Distribution patterns of neuronal intermediate filaments in cultured autonomic neurons were thoroughly studied under immunocytochemistry and conventional electron microscopy.
Results: Our immunohistochemistry results indicate that peripheral sensory nerves and autonomic innervation of sweat glands and irises dominated degeneration in dt/dt mice. Quantitative results confirmed that the number of neurons was significantly decreased in the lumbar sympathetic ganglia as well as in the parasympathetic ciliary ganglia of dt/dt mice compared with those of wild-type mice. We also observed that the neuronal intermediate filaments were aggregated abnormally in cultured autonomic neurons from dt/dt embryos.
Conclusions: These results suggest that a deficiency in the cytoskeletal linker BPAG1 is responsible for dominant sensory nerve degeneration and severe autonomic degeneration in dt/dt mice. Additionally, abnormally aggregated neuronal intermediate filaments may participate in neuronal death of cultured autonomic neurons from dt/dt mutants.