FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Imatinib therapy blocks cerebellar apoptosis and improves neurological symptoms in a mouse model of Niemann-Pick type C disease.

PMID 18591368


Niemann-Pick type C (NPC) disease is a fatal autosomal recessive disorder characterized by the accumulation of free cholesterol and glycosphingolipids in the endosomal-lysosomal system. Patients with NPC disease have markedly progressive neuronal loss, mainly of cerebellar Purkinje neurons. There is strong evidence indicating that cholesterol accumulation and trafficking defects activate apoptosis in NPC brains. The purpose of this study was to analyze the relevance of apoptosis and particularly the proapoptotic c-Abl/p73 system in cerebellar neuron degeneration in NPC disease. We used the NPC1 mouse model to evaluate c-Abl/p73 expression and activation in the cerebellum and the effect of therapy with the c-Abl-specific inhibitor imatinib. The proapoptotic c-Abl/p73 system and the p73 target genes are expressed in the cerebellums of NPC mice. Furthermore, inhibition of c-Abl with imatinib preserved Purkinje neurons and reduced general cell apoptosis in the cerebellum, improved neurological symptoms, and increased the survival of NPC mice. Moreover, this prosurvival effect correlated with reduced mRNA levels of p73 proapoptotic target genes. Our results suggest that the c-Abl/p73 pathway is involved in NPC neurodegeneration and show that treatment with c-Abl inhibitors is useful in delaying progressive neurodegeneration, supporting the use of imatinib for clinical treatment of patients with NPC disease.