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Am J Pathol. 2009 Dec;175(6):2540-56. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2009.081096. Epub 2009 Nov 5.

Increased activity and altered subcellular distribution of lysosomal enzymes determine neuronal vulnerability in Niemann-Pick type C1-deficient mice.

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Department of Psychiatry, Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases, University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada.


Niemann-Pick disease type C (NPC), caused by mutations in the Npc1 or Npc2 genes, is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by intracellular accumulation/redistribution of cholesterol in a number of tissues including the brain. This is accompanied by a severe loss of neurons in selected brain regions. In this study, we evaluated the role of lysosomal enzymes, cathepsins B and D, in determining neuronal vulnerability in NPC1-deficient (Npc1(-/-)) mouse brains. Our results showed that Npc1(-/-) mice exhibit an age-dependent degeneration of neurons in the cerebellum but not in the hippocampus. The cellular level/expression and activity of cathepsins B and D are increased more predominantly in the cerebellum than in the hippocampus of Npc1(-/-) mice. In addition, the cytosolic levels of cathepsins, cytochrome c, and Bax2 are higher in the cerebellum than in the hippocampus of Npc1(-/-) mice, suggesting a role for these enzymes in the degeneration of neurons. This suggestion is supported by our observation that degeneration of cultured cortical neurons treated with U18666A, which induces an NPC1-like phenotype at the cellular level, can be attenuated by inhibition of cathepsin B or D enzyme activity. These results suggest that the increased level/activity and altered subcellular distribution of cathepsins may be associated with the underlying cause of neuronal vulnerability in Npc1(-/-) brains. Therefore, their inhibitors may have therapeutic potential in attenuating NPC pathology.

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