Cerebellar neuropathology in FRDA patients includes loss of large principal neurons and synaptic terminals in the dentate nucleus (DN) and previous studies have demonstrated early synaptic deficits in the Knockin-Knockout mouse model of FRDA. However, the exact correlation of frataxin deficiency with cerebellar neuropathology remains unclear. Here the authors report that doxycycline-induced frataxin knockdown in a mouse model of FRDA (FRDAkd) leads to synaptic cerebellar degeneration that can be partially reversed by AAV8-mediated frataxin restoration. Loss of cerebellar Purkinje neurons and large DN principal neurons are observed in the FRDAkd mouse cerebellum. Levels of the climbing fiber-specific glutamatergic synaptic marker VGLUT2 decline starting at 4 weeks after dox induction, whereas levels of the parallel fiber-specific synaptic marker VGLUT1 are reduced by 18-weeks. These findings suggest initial selective degeneration of climbing fiber synapses followed by loss of parallel fiber synapses. The GABAergic synaptic marker GAD65 progressively declined during dox induction in FRDAkd mice, while GAD67 levels remained unaltered, suggesting specific roles for frataxin in maintaining cerebellar synaptic integrity and function during adulthood. Expression of frataxin following AAV8-mediated gene transfer partially restored VGLUT1/2 levels. Taken together, these findings show that frataxin knockdown leads to cerebellar degeneration in the FRDAkd mouse model, suggesting that frataxin helps maintain cerebellar structure and function.
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