Ataxia-telangiectasia (AT) is a human disease caused by mutations in the ATM gene. The neural phenotype of AT includes progressive cerebellar neurodegeneration, which results in ataxia and eventual motor dysfunction. Surprisingly, mice in which the Atm gene has been inactivated lack distinct behavioral ataxia or pronounced cerebellar degeneration, the hallmarks of the human disease. To determine whether lack of the Atm protein can nonetheless lead to structural abnormalities in the brain, we compared brains from male Atm-deficient mice with male, age-matched controls. Atm-deficient mice exhibited severe degeneration of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive, dopaminergic nigro-striatal neurons, and their terminals in the striatum. This cell loss was accompanied by a large reduction in immunoreactivity for the dopamine transporter in the striatum. A reduction in dopaminergic neurons also was evident in the ventral tegmental area. This effect was selective in that the noradrenergic nucleus locus coeruleus was normal in these mice. Behaviorally, Atm-deficient mice expressed locomotor abnormalities manifested as stride-length asymmetry, which could be corrected by peripheral application of the dopaminergic precursor L-dopa. In addition, these mice were hypersensitive to the dopamine releasing drug D-amphetamine. These results indicate that ATM deficiency can severely affect dopaminergic neurons in the central nervous system and suggest possible strategies for treating this aspect of the disease.
|Number of pages
|Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
|Published - 13 Oct 1998