Dr. Stephan

After a very challenging summer, I've finally turned in my written thesis, so it's official: I have my Ph.D. I'm publishing the abstract below. These findings should all be published in peer-reviewed journals in the next 6 months.

Ataxin-7 Conserved Motifs Determine the Severity of the Neurodegenerative Disorder Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 7 in Transgenic Mice and Influence Lifespan in Yeast

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7) is an autosomal dominant, progressive neurodegenerative disorder whose characteristic features are cerebellar ataxia, dysarthria, and retinal cone-rod dystrophy culminating in blindness. SCA7 is caused by an abnormally long glutamine-coding CAG repeat in the SCA7 gene, which encodes the protein Ataxin-7.

Ataxin-7 contains several conserved motifs that may influence the toxicity of the glutamine tract. Among these are three conserved regions (conserved block I – III), two caspase-7 cleavage sites, a nuclear export signal and two monopartite nuclear localization signals (NLS). Previous investigations have shown that the caspase-7 cleavage site D266 is required for the full toxicity of the Ataxin-7 protein in cell culture. We generated SCA7 transgenic mice expressing a 92 CAG version of the human SCA7 cDNA, with and without a D266N mutation. Mice carrying the D266N mutation were protected from SCA7-like neurodegeneration, behavioral signs and shortened lifespan.

To further characterize the role of conserved motifs in SCA7 pathology, we generated SCA7 transgenic mice carrying point mutations in both C-terminal NLSs (KKRK -> KAAK). Previous work has shown that nuclear localization is an important step in the pathology of CAG repeat disorders. We observed that mice lacking C-terminal NLS activity were substantially protected from degeneration of the retina and cerebellum, SCA7-like behavioral signs and shortened lifespan.

Age is the primary risk factor for neurodegenerative disease. Even in the absence of overt disease, the aging brain shows histopathological and molecular changes reminiscent of neurodegeneration. To explore the link between neurodegenerative disease and aging, we have examined the replicative lifespan of Saccharomyces cerevisiae missing the SCA7 ortholog, SGF73. This strain exhibits an unusually long lifespan, which is dependent on the function of the NAD+-dependent deacetylase SIR2. We present evidence that the extended lifespan of the SGF73 null strain is due to the influence of Sgf73 on the activity of Sir2 and the histone deubiquitinase Ubp8. Furthermore, we show that the level of ubiquitinated H2B is elevated in an SCA7 transgenic mouse line, indicating that an alteration in Ubp8 activity may play a role in SCA7 pathology and that aging and neurodegeneration may share a common mechanism.