Survival of interneurons and parallel fiber synapses in a cerebellar cortex deprived of Purkinje cells: Studies in the double mutant mouseGrid2Lc/+;Bax−/−

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Abstract

The Lurcher mutation in the Grid2 gene causes the cell autonomous death of virtually all cerebellar Purkinje cells and the target-related death of 90% of the granule cells and 60–75% of the olivary neurons. Inactivation of Bax, a pro-apoptotic gene of the Bcl-2 family, in heterozygous Lurcher mutants (Grid2Lc/+) rescues ˜60% of the granule cells, but does not rescue Purkinje or olivary neurons. Given the larger size of the cerebellar molecular layer in Grid2Lc/+;Bax−/− double mutants compared to Grid2Lc/+ mutants, we analyzed the survival of the stellate and basket interneurons as well as the synaptic connectivity of parallel fibers originating from the surviving granule cells in the absence of their Purkinje cell targets in the Grid2Lc/+;Bax−/− cerebellum. Quantification showed a significantly higher density of interneurons (˜60%) in the molecular layer of the Grid2Lc/+;Bax−/− mice compared to Grid2Lc/+, suggesting that interneurons are subject to a BAX-dependent target-related death in the Lurcher mutants. Furthermore, electron microscopy showed the normal ultrastructural aspect of a number of parallel fibers in the molecular layer of the Grid2Lc/+; Bax−/− double mutant mice and preserved their numerous synaptic contacts on interneurons, suggesting that interneurons could play a trophic role for axon terminals of surviving granule cells. Finally, parallel fibers varicosities in the double mutant established “pseudo-synapses” on glia as well as displayed autophagic profiles, suggesting that the connections established by the parallel fibers in the absence of their Purkinje cell targets were subject to a high turnover involving autophagy.

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