Spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 (SCA2) is an autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorder caused by CAG-expansion mutations in the ATXN2 gene, mainly affecting motor neurons in the spinal cord and Purkinje neurons in the cerebellum. While the large expansions were shown to cause SCA2, the intermediate length expansions lead to increased risk for several atrophic processes including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson variants, e.g. progressive supranuclear palsy. Intense efforts to pioneer a neuroprotective therapy for SCA2 require longitudinal monitoring of patients and identification of crucial molecular pathways. The ataxin-2 (ATXN2) protein is mainly involved in RNA translation control and regulation of nutrient metabolism during stress periods. The preferential mRNA targets of ATXN2 are yet to be determined. In order to understand the molecular disease mechanism throughout different prognostic stages, we generated an Atxn2-CAG100-knock-in (KIN) mouse model of SCA2 with intact murine ATXN2 expression regulation. Its characterization revealed somatic mosaicism of the expansion, with shortened lifespan, a progressive spatio-temporal pattern of pathology with subsequent phenotypes, and anomalies of brain metabolites such as N-acetylaspartate (NAA), all of which mirror faithfully the findings in SCA2 patients. Novel molecular analyses from stages before the onset of motor deficits revealed a strong selective effect of ATXN2 on Nat8l mRNA which encodes the enzyme responsible for NAA synthesis. This metabolite is a prominent energy store of the brain and a well-established marker for neuronal health. Overall, we present a novel authentic rodent model of SCA2, where in vivo magnetic resonance imaging was feasible to monitor progression and where the definition of earliest transcriptional abnormalities was possible. We believe that this model will not only reveal crucial insights regarding the pathomechanism of SCA2 and other ATXN2-associated disorders, but will also aid in developing gene-targeted therapies and disease prevention.
- Mitochondrial bioenergetics
- Molecular biomarkers of disease
- Polyglutamine expansion
- RNA processing
- Stress granules