All neuropathies great and small

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Autosomal-dominant pure hereditary spastic paraplegia (AD-HSP) is characterized by the degeneration of long axons in corticospinal tracts and dorsal columns, resulting in spasticity and difficulty walking. Mutations in the SPG4 gene product spastin are the predominant genetic lesions associated with this inherited disease. In this issue, Orso et al. examine and reconcile existing Drosophila mutants of spastin and generate a new model for HSP by overexpression of a fly spastin transgene that carries a mutation prevalent in human AD-HSP. Expression of this mutant spastin protein produces pathology in flies reminiscent of the human disease, including adult locomotion defects, in addition to causing aberrant synaptic morphology and altered microtubule stability. Both movement and synaptic defects in fly mutants were ameliorated by treatment with the microtubule-modifying agent vinblastine. The results are consistent with disease-causing mutations in human spastin producing dominant-negative proteins and confirm the usefulness of Drosophila genetic techniques to understand HSP and other neurodegenerative diseases.

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