Memory deficits, gait ataxia and neuronal loss in the hippocampus and cerebellum in mice that are heterozygous for Pur-alpha

Authors

Mary F. Barbe, Jessica J. Krueger, Regina Loomis, Jessica Otte, Jennifer Gordon

Abstract

Pur-alpha is a highly conserved sequence-specific DNA and RNA binding protein with established roles in DNA replication, RNA translation, cell cycle regulation, and maintenance of neuronal differentiation. Prior studies have shown that mice lacking Pur-alpha (−/−) display decreased neurogenesis and impaired neuronal differentiation. We sought to examine for the first time, the behavioral phenotype and brain histopathology of mice that are heterozygous (+/−) for Pur-alpha. Standardized behavioral phenotyping revealed a decreased escape response to touch, limb and abdominal hypotonia, and gait abnormalities in heterozygous Pur-alpha (+/−) mice, compared to wild-type (+/+) littermates. Footprint pattern analyses showed wider-based steps, increased missteps and more outwardly rotated hindpaws in heterozygous Pur-alpha (+/−) mice, suggestive of cerebellar pathology. The Barnes maze and novel object location testing revealed significant memory deficits in heterozygous Pur-alpha mice, suggestive of hippocampal pathology. Quantitative immunohistochemical assays of the vermal region of the cerebellum and CA1-3 regions of the hippocampus revealed reduced numbers of neurons in general, as well as reduced numbers of Pur-alpha+-immunopositive neurons and dendrites in heterozygous Pur-alpha mice, compared to wild-type littermates. Past studies have implicated mutations in Pur-alpha in several diseases of brain development and neurodegeneration. When combined with these new findings, the Pur-alpha heterozygous knockout mice may provide an animal model in which to study mechanisms of and treatments for Pur-alpha-related cognitive deficiencies and neuropathology.