Old English Sheepdogs and Gordon Setters suffer from a juvenile onset, autosomal recessive form of canine hereditary ataxia primarily affecting the Purkinje neuron of the cerebellar cortex. The clinical and histological characteristics are analogous to hereditary ataxias in humans. Linkage and genome-wide association studies on a cohort of related Old English Sheepdogs identified a region on CFA4 strongly associated with the disease phenotype. Targeted sequence capture and next generation sequencing of the region identified an A to C single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) located at position 113 in exon 1 of an autophagy gene, RAB24, that segregated with the phenotype. Genotyping of six additional breeds of dogs affected with hereditary ataxia identified the same polymorphism in affected Gordon Setters that segregated perfectly with phenotype. The other breeds tested did not have the polymorphism. Genome-wide SNP genotyping of Gordon Setters identified a 1.9 MB region with an identical haplotype to affected Old English Sheepdogs. Histopathology, immunohistochemistry and ultrastructural evaluation of the brains of affected dogs from both breeds identified dramatic Purkinje neuron loss with axonal spheroids, accumulation of autophagosomes, ubiquitin positive inclusions and a diffuse increase in cytoplasmic neuronal ubiquitin staining. These findings recapitulate the changes reported in mice with induced neuron-specific autophagy defects. Taken together, our results suggest that a defect in RAB24, a gene associated with autophagy, is highly associated with and may contribute to canine hereditary ataxia in Old English Sheepdogs and Gordon Setters. This finding suggests that detailed investigation of autophagy pathways should be undertaken in human hereditary ataxia. Author Summary Neurodegenerative diseases are one of the most important causes of decline in an aging population. An important subset of these diseases are known as the hereditary ataxias, familial neurodegenerative diseases that affect the cerebellum causing progressive gait disturbance in both humans and dogs. We identified a mutation in RAB24, a gene associated with autophagy, in Old English Sheepdogs and Gordon Setters with hereditary ataxia. Autophagy is a process by which cell proteins and organelles are removed and recycled and its critical role in maintenance of the continued health of cells is becoming clear. We evaluated the brains of affected dogs and identified accumulations of autophagosomes within the cerebellum, suggesting a defect in the autophagy pathway. Our results suggest that a defect in the autophagy pathway results in neuronal death in a naturally occurring disease in dogs. The autophagy pathway should be investigated in human hereditary ataxia and may represent a therapeutic target in neurodegenerative diseases.
2014. Vol. 10, no 2, e1003991- p.