Autosomal dominant hereditary spastic paraplegia (AD-HSP) is a genetically heterogeneous neurodegenerative disorder characterized by progressive spasticity of the lower limbs. Among the four loci causing AD-HSP identified so far, the SPG4 locus at chromosome 2p2-1p22 has been shown to account for 40%-50% of all AD-HSP families. Using a positional cloning strategy based on obtaining sequence of the entire SPG4 interval, a candidate gene was identified encoding a new member of the AAA protein family, which has been named spastin. Sequence analysis of this gene in seven SPG4-linked pedigrees revealed several DNA modifications, including missense, nonsense and splice-site mutations. Both SPG4 and its mouse ortholog were shown to be expressed early and ubiquitously in fetal and adult tissues (Hazan, 1998).

Sequence analysis of the 17 exons of SPG4 in 87 unrelated AD-HSP patients has resulted in the detection of 34 novel mutations. These SPG4 mutations are scattered along the coding region of the gene and include all types of DNA modification including missense (28%), nonsense (15%) and splice site point (26.5%) mutations as well as deletions (23%) and insertions (7.5%). The clinical analysis of the 238 mutation carriers revealed a high proportion of both asymptomatic carriers (14/238) and patients unaware of symptoms (45/238), and permits the redefinition of this frequent form of AD-HSP (Fonknechten, 2000).

Hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) causes the specific degeneration of the corticospinal tracts, the longest axons in humans. Most cases of the autosomal dominant form of the disease are due to mutations in the SPG4 gene, which encodes spastin, an ATPase belonging to the AAA family. The cellular pathways in which spastin operates and its role in causing degeneration of motor axons are currently unknown. By expressing wild-type or ATPase-defective spastin in several cell types, spastin was shown to interact dynamically with microtubules. Spastin association with the microtubule cytoskeleton is mediated by the N-terminal region of the protein, and is regulated through the ATPase activity of the AAA domain. Expression of all the missense mutations in the AAA domain, that have been identified in patients, leads to constitutive binding to microtubules in transfected cells and induces the disappearance of the aster and the formation of thick perinuclear bundles, suggesting a role of spastin in microtubule dynamics. Consistently, wild-type spastin promotes microtubule disassembly in transfected cells. These data suggest that spastin may be involved in microtubule dynamics similar to the highly homologous microtubule-severing protein, katanin. Impairment of fine regulation of the microtubule cytoskeleton in long axons, due to spastin mutations, may underlie pathogenesis of HSP (Errico, 2002).

Multiple sequence alignment has revealed the presence of a sequence domain of approximately 80 amino acids in two molecules, spartin and spastin, mutated in hereditary spastic paraplegia. The domain, which corresponds to a slightly extended version of the recently described ESP domain of unknown function, was also identified in VPS4, SKD1, RPK118, and SNX15, all of which have a well established and consistent role in endosomal trafficking. Recent functional information indicates that spastin is likely to be involved in microtubule interaction. With this new information relating to its likely function, the more descriptive name 'MIT' (contained within microtubule-interacting and trafficking molecules) is proposed for the domain and predicts endosomal trafficking as the principal functionality of all molecules in which it is present (Ciccarelli, 2003).

Mutations of spastin are responsible for the most common autosomal dominant form of hereditary spastic paraplegia (AD-HSP), a disease characterized by axonal degeneration of corticospinal tracts and posterior columns. Generation of polyclonal antibodies specific to spastin has revealed two isoforms of 75 and 80 kDa in both human and mouse tissues with a tissue-specific variability of the isoform ratio. Spastin is an abundant protein in neural tissues and immunolabeling experiments have shown that spastin is expressed in neurons but not in glial cells. These data indicate that axonal degeneration linked to spastin mutations is caused by a primary defect of neurons. Protein and transcript analyses of patients carrying either nonsense or frameshift spastin mutations have revealed neither truncated protein nor mutated transcripts, providing evidence that these mutations are responsible for a loss of spastin function. Identifying agents able to induce the expression of the non-mutated spastin allele should represent an attractive therapeutic strategy in this disease (Charvin, 2003).

Hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) is characterized by the specific retrograde degeneration of the longest axons in the central nervous system, the corticospinal tracts. The gene most frequently involved in autosomal dominant cases of this disease, SPG4, encodes spastin, an ATPase belonging to the AAA family. AAA proteins are thought to exert their function by the energy-dependent rearrangement of protein complexes. The composite function of these proteins is directed by their binding to regulatory factors and adaptor proteins that target their activity into specific pathways in vivo. Overexpressed spastin interacts dynamically with microtubules and displays microtubule-severing activity. Spastin is enriched in cell regions containing dynamic microtubules. During cell division spastin is found in the spindle pole, the central spindle and the midbody, whereas in immortalized motoneurons it is enriched in the distal axon and the branching points. Furthermore, spastin interacts with the centrosomal protein NA14, and co-fractionates with gamma-tubulin, a centrosomal marker. Deletion of the region required for binding to NA14 disrupts spastin interaction with microtubules, suggesting that NA14 may be an important adaptor to target spastin activity at the centrosome. These data strongly argue that spastin plays a role in cytoskeletal rearrangements and dynamics, and provide an attractive explanation for the degeneration of motor axons in HSP (Errico, 2004).

Both nonsense and missense mutations in the spastin gene disrupted microtubule pathways in nonpathologic tissue, including microtubule dynamics, stability, exocytosis, and endocytosis. Altered microtubule metabolism in SPG4-linked hereditary spastic paraplegia patients leads to pathology of the long descending tracks of motor neurons that likely have a stringent need for efficient microtubular transport (Molon, 2004).

Hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) is a collection of neurological disorders characterized by developmental failure or degeneration of motor axons in the corticospinal tract and progressive lower limb spasticity. SPG4 mutations are the most common cause of autosomal dominant HSP and Spastin (the SPG4 gene product) is a microtubule severing protein that shares homology with katanin, the microtubule severing activity of which promotes axon growth in cultured neurons. Given the sequence and functional similarity between spastin and katanin, it was hypothesized that spastin promotes the dynamic disassembly and remodelling of microtubules required for robust, properly directed motor axon outgrowth. To investigate this hypothesis, the zebrafish spg4 orthologue was cloned and morpholino antisense oligonucleotides directed against the translation start site and the intron 7-8 splice donor site were used to knock down spastin function in the developing zebrafish embryo. Reduced spg4 function caused dramatic defects in motor axon outgrowth without affecting the events driving the initial specification of motor neurones. Other neuronal subtypes also exhibited a requirement for spg4 function, since spg4 knock down caused both widespread defects in neuronal connectivity and extensive CNS-specific apoptosis. These results reveal a critical requirement for spastin to promote axonal outgrowth during embryonic development, and they validate the zebrafish embryo as a novel model system to dissect the pathogenetic mechanisms underlying HSP. Taken together with other recent studies, these findings suggest that axon outgrowth defects may be a common feature of childhood SPG3A and SPG4 cases (Wood, 2006).

spastin: Biological Overview | Transcriptional Regulation | Developmental Biology | Effects of RNAi mediated knockdown and overexpression | References

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