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Dev Biol. 2009 Oct 1;334(1):311-23. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.07.024. Epub 2009 Jul 25.

A neurodegenerative disease affecting synaptic connections in Drosophila mutant for the tumor suppressor morphogen Patched.

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Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77555, USA.


The tumor suppressor morphogen, Patched (Ptc), has an extensive homology to the Niemann-Pick-C 1 (NPC1) protein. The NPC disease is a paediatric, progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disorder thought to be due to an abnormal accumulation of cholesterol in neurons. Here, we report that patched mutant adults develop a progressive neurodegenerative disease and their brain contains membranous and lamellar inclusions. There is also a significant reduction in the number of synaptic terminals in the brain of the mutant adults. Interestingly, feeding cholesterol to wild type flies generates inclusions in the brain, but does not cause the disease. However, feeding cholesterol to mutant flies increases synaptic connections and suppresses the disease. Our results suggest that sequestration of cholesterol in the mutant brain in the form of membranous material and inclusions affects available pool of cholesterol for cellular functions. This, in turn, negatively affects the synaptic number and contributes to the disease-state. Consistent with this, in ptc mutants there is a reduction in the pool of cholesterol esters, and cholesterol-mediated suppression of the disease accompanies an increase in cholesterol esters. We further show that Ptc does not function directly in this process since gain of function for Hedgehog also induces the same disease with a reduction in the level of cholesterol esters. We believe that loss of function for ptc causes neurodegeneration via two distinct ways: de-repression of genes that interfere with lipid trafficking, and de-repression of genes outside of the lipid trafficking; the functions of both classes of genes ultimately converge on synaptic connections.

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