Dystonin (Dst) is a causative gene for Dystonia musculorum (dt) mice, which is an inherited disorder exhibiting dystonia-like movement and ataxia with sensory degeneration. Dst is expressed in a variety of tissues, including the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), muscles, and skin. However, the Dst-expressing cell type(s) for dt phenotypes have not been well characterized. To address the questions whether the disruption of Dst in Schwann cells induces movement disorders and how much impact does it have on dt phenotypes, we generated Dst conditional knockout (cKO) mice using P0-Cre transgenic mice and Dst gene trap mice. First, we assessed the P0-Cre transgene-dependent Cre recombination using tdTomato reporter mice and then confirmed the preferential tdTomato expression in Schwann cells. In the Dst cKO mice, Dst mRNA expression was significantly decreased in Schwann cells, but it was intact in most of the sensory neurons in the dorsal root ganglion. Next, we analyzed the phenotype of Dst cKO mice. They exhibited a normal motor phenotype during juvenile periods, and thereafter, started exhibiting an ataxia. Behavioral tests and electrophysiological analyses demonstrated impaired motor abilities and slowed motor nerve conduction velocity in Dst cKO mice, but these mice did not manifest dystonic movements. Electron microscopic observation of the PNS of Dst cKO mice revealed significant numbers of hypomyelinated axons and numerous infiltrating macrophages engulfing myelin debris. These results indicate that Dst is important for normal PNS myelin organization and Dst disruption in Schwann cells induces late-onset neuropathy and sensory ataxia. Main points: Dystonin (Dst) disruption in Schwann cells results in late-onset neuropathy and sensory ataxia. Dst in Schwann cells is important for normal myelin organization in the peripheral nervous system.
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