Ablation of polyamine catabolic enzymes provokes Purkinje cell damage, neuroinflammation, and severe ataxia

J Neuroinflammation. 2020 Oct 14;17(1):301. doi: 10.1186/s12974-020-01955-6.


Background: Polyamine catabolism plays a key role in maintaining intracellular polyamine pools, yet its physiological significance is largely unexplored. Here, we report that the disruption of polyamine catabolism leads to severe cerebellar damage and ataxia, demonstrating the fundamental role of polyamine catabolism in the maintenance of cerebellar function and integrity.

Methods: Mice with simultaneous deletion of the two principal polyamine catabolic enzymes, spermine oxidase and spermidine/spermine N1-acetyltransferase (Smox/Sat1-dKO), were generated by the crossbreeding of Smox-KO (Smox-/-) and Sat1-KO (Sat1-/-) animals. Development and progression of tissue injury was monitored using imaging, behavioral, and molecular analyses.

Results: Smox/Sat1-dKO mice are normal at birth, but develop progressive cerebellar damage and ataxia. The cerebellar injury in Smox/Sat1-dKO mice is associated with Purkinje cell loss and gliosis, leading to neuroinflammation and white matter demyelination during the latter stages of the injury. The onset of tissue damage in Smox/Sat1-dKO mice is not solely dependent on changes in polyamine levels as cerebellar injury was highly selective. RNA-seq analysis and confirmatory studies revealed clear decreases in the expression of Purkinje cell-associated proteins and significant increases in the expression of transglutaminases and markers of neurodegenerative microgliosis and astrocytosis. Further, the α-Synuclein expression, aggregation, and polyamination levels were significantly increased in the cerebellum of Smox/Sat1-dKO mice. Finally, there were clear roles of transglutaminase-2 (TGM2) in the cerebellar pathologies manifest in Smox/Sat1-dKO mice, as pharmacological inhibition of transglutaminases reduced the severity of ataxia and cerebellar injury in Smox/Sat1-dKO mice.

Conclusions: These results indicate that the disruption of polyamine catabolism, via coordinated alterations in tissue polyamine levels, elevated transglutaminase activity and increased expression, polyamination, and aggregation of α-Synuclein, leads to severe cerebellar damage and ataxia. These studies indicate that polyamine catabolism is necessary to Purkinje cell survival, and for sustaining the functional integrity of the cerebellum.

Keywords: Ataxia; Cerebellum; Gliosis; Neuroinflammation; Polyamine; Polyamine catabolism; Protein polyamination; Purkinje cells; Transglutaminase.

MeSH terms

  • Acetyltransferases / deficiency*
  • Acetyltransferases / genetics
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Ataxia / enzymology*
  • Ataxia / genetics
  • Ataxia / pathology
  • Cerebellum / enzymology
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Inflammation / enzymology
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-NH Group Donors / deficiency*
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-NH Group Donors / genetics
  • Polyamine Oxidase
  • Purkinje Cells / enzymology*
  • Purkinje Cells / pathology


  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-NH Group Donors
  • Acetyltransferases
  • diamine N-acetyltransferase