GBA2 in the nervous system: lipids and gait imbalance are intertwined

A collaborative study of scientists from the Institute of Innate Immunity, research center caesar, and DZNE sheds light on the molecular mechanism underlying ataxia and spasticity in patients with mutations in a key enzyme of the glycosphingolipid metabolism.

Bonn, February 11, 2019. GBA2 is a pivotal enzyme in lipid metabolism as it regulates the degradation of glucosylceramide. Glucosylceramide is a precursor lipid for other, more complex lipids, which are involved in maintaining key cellular functions. An imbalance in the glucosylceramide lipid homeostasis causes severe diseases that commonly affect the central nervous system. Mutations in the GBA2 gene have been identified in ataxic and spastic patients suffering from autosomal-recessive cerebellar ataxia (ARCA), hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), or the Marinesco-Sjögren-like syndrome. These patients exhibit impaired locomotion and neurological abnormalities that develop early in childhood and to date are incurable. The group of Dagmar Wachten could show that the mutations found in patients caused a loss of GBA2 function. Thus, to study the role of GBA2 in controlling locomotion, the researchers used a mouse model that lacks GBA2 (GBA2 knockout-mice) and analyzed the gait properties compared to control mice. Indeed, GBA2 knockout-mice displayed alterations in their gait pattern and some of them displayed a strong defect in locomotion. However, the phenotype did not fully resemble the human phenotype, suggesting species-specific differences in GBA2-controlled glucosylceramide metabolism. To study the defect on a cellular level, the morphology and function of neurons was analyzed in a petri dish. Loss of GBA2 activity had a strong defect on neuronal development and morphology, in particular on the outgrowth of cellular extensions, called neurites, which are important to transmit information in the brain from one neuron to the other. This demonstrated that the lipid homeostasis is crucial for neuronal development and sheds light on how mutations in the GBA2 gene might cause locomotor dysfunction.

Figure 1: Shown are GBA2-KO fibroblasts, plated on fibronectin-coated (purple) CYTOO chips. Actin is labelled in green, the nucleus in blue. The image has been taken by Diana N. Raju.

Original publication: M.A. Woeste, S. Stern, D.N. Raju, E. Grahn, D. Dittmann, K. Gutbrod, P. Dörmann, J.N. Hansen., S. Schonauer, C.E. Marx, H. Hamzeh, H.G. Körschen, J.M.F.G. Aerts, W. Bönigk, H. Endepols, R. Sandhoff, M. Geyer, T.K. Berger., F. Bradke, und D. Wachten - Species-specific differences in non-lysosomal glucosylceramidase GBA2 function underlie locomotor dysfunction arising from loss-of-function mutations. Journal of Biological Chemistry, doi:10.1074/ jbc.RA118.006311

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Dagmar Wachten
Biophysical Imaging, Institute of Innate Immunity
University Hospital Bonn, University of Bonn
Sigmund-Freud-Str. 25, D-53127 Bonn
Tel.: +49-2288-9656-311

About research center caesar:
The Center of Advanced European Studies and Research (caesar) in Bonn, Germany, is a neuroethology research institute that focuses on the neural mechanisms underlying animal behavior. The institute is operated by a non-profit foundation under private law. Trustors are the Federal Republic of Germany and the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia. caesar is closely associated with the Max Planck Society (MPG) and shares its scientific principles. The President of the MPG chairs the Board of Trustees and caesar¹s Directors are Scientific Members of the MPG.

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 Sebastian Scherrer
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