Purkinje neurons are a sensitive and specialised cell type important for fine motor movement and coordination. Purkinje cell damage manifests as motor incoordination and ataxia - a prominent feature of many human disorders including spinocerebellar ataxia and Huntington's disease. A correlation between Purkinje degeneration and excess cerebellar levels of tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA) has been observed in multiple genetically-distinct models of ataxia. Here we show that Purkinje loss in a mouse model of Huntington's disease also correlates with a 200% increase in cerebellar tPA activity. That elevated tPA levels arise in a variety of ataxia models suggests that tPA is a common mediator of Purkinje damage. To address the specific contribution of tPA to cerebellar dysfunction we studied the T4 mice line that overexpresses murine tPA in postnatal neurons through the Thy1.2 gene promoter, which directs preferential expression to Purkinje cells within the cerebellum. Here we show that T4 mice develop signs of cerebellar damage within 10 weeks of birth including atrophy of Purkinje cell soma and dendrites, astrogliosis, reduced molecular layer volume and altered gait. In contrast, T4 mice displayed no evidence of microgliosis, nor any changes in interneuron density, nor alteration in the cerebellar granular neuron layer. Thus, excess tPA levels may be sufficient to cause targeted Purkinje cell degeneration and ataxia. We propose that elevated cerebellar tPA levels exert a common pathway of Purkinje cell damage. Therapeutically lowering cerebellar tPA levels may represent a novel means of preserving Purkinje cell integrity and motor coordination across a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases.
Keywords: (HD); (OPT); (SCA); (tPA); Astrogliosis; Ataxia; Calbindin; Cerebellum; DigiGait; Huntington's disease; Neurodegeneration; Optical Projection Tomography; Plasminogen activation; Purkinje neuron; Tissue-type plasminogen activator; spinocerebellar ataxia; tissue-type plasminogen activator.