Canavan disease is a leukodystrophy caused by aspartoacylase (ASPA) deficiency. The lack of functional ASPA, an enzyme enriched in oligodendroglia that cleaves N-acetyl-L-aspartate (NAA) to acetate and L-aspartic acid, elevates brain NAA and causes “spongiform” vacuolation of superficial brain white matter and neighboring gray matter. In children with Canavan disease, neuroimaging shows early-onset dysmyelination and progressive brain atrophy. Neuron loss has been documented at autopsy in some cases. Prior studies have shown that mice homozygous for the Aspa nonsense mutation Nur7 also develop brain vacuolation. We now report that numbers of cerebral cortical and cerebellar neurons are decreased and that cerebral cortex progressively thins in AspaNur7/Nur7 mice. This neuronal pathology is prevented by constitutive disruption of Nat8l, which encodes the neuronal NAA-synthetic enzyme N-acetyltransferase-8-like.
This is the first demonstration of cortical and cerebellar neuron depletion and progressive cerebral cortical thinning in an animal model of Canavan disease. Genetic suppression of N-acetyl-L-aspartate (NAA) synthesis, previously shown to block brain vacuolation in aspartoacylase-deficient mice, also prevents neuron loss and cerebral cortical atrophy in these mice. These results suggest that lowering the concentration of NAA in the brains of children with Canavan disease would prevent or slow progression of neurological deficits.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Supported by NIH R21NS096004, NMSS RG 5252-A-6, and the Shriners Hospitals for Children.