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Hum Mol Genet. 2013 Feb 1;22(3):508-18. doi: 10.1093/hmg/dds449. Epub 2012 Oct 24.

Calpain-mediated ataxin-3 cleavage in the molecular pathogenesis of spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3).

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Institute of Medical Genetics and Applied Genomics, University of Tuebingen, Tuebingen 72076, Germany.


Spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3) is pathologically characterized by the formation of intranuclear aggregates which contain ataxin-3, the mutated protein in SCA3, in a specific subtype of neurons. It has been proposed that ataxin-3 is cleaved by proteolytic enzymes, in particular by calpains and caspases, eventually leading to the formation of aggregates. In our study, we examined the ability of calpains to cleave ataxin-3 in vitro and in vivo. We demonstrated in cell culture and mouse brain homogenates that cleavage of overexpressed ataxin-3 by calpains and in particular by calpain-2 occur and that polyglutamine expanded ataxin-3 is more sensitive to calpain degradation. Based on these results, we investigated the influence of calpains on the pathogenesis of SCA3 in vivo. For this purpose, we enhanced calpain activity in a SCA3 transgenic mouse model by knocking out the endogenous calpain inhibitor calpastatin. Double-mutant mice demonstrated an aggravated neurological phenotype with an increased number of nuclear aggregates and accelerated neurodegeneration in the cerebellum. This study confirms the critical importance of calcium-dependent calpain-type proteases in the pathogenesis of SCA3 and suggests that the manipulation of the ataxin-3 cleavage pathway and the regulation of intracellular calcium homeostasis may represent novel targets for therapeutic intervention in SCA3.

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