Selective neurodegeneration, without neurofibrillary tangles, in a mouse model of Niemann-Pick C disease



The BALB/c mouse model of Niemann-Pick type C (NPC) disease exhibits neuropathological similarities to the human condition. There is an age-related cerebral atrophy, demyelination of the corpus callosum, and degeneration of cerebellar Purkinje cells in the NPC mouse. In human NPC, many cortical and subcortical neurons contain neurofibrillary tangles, which are thought by some investigators to play an important role in the neurodegenerative process. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether neurodegeneration occurs in the NPC mouse, in brain regions other than the cerebellum and whether the degeneration is related to the presence of neurofibrillary tangles. Using light microscopic methods with immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy, and cell counting methods, 11-week-old NPC+/+ and NPC−/− animals were examined. In the NPC−/− mice, there were 96% fewer Purkinje cells, 28% fewer neurons in the prefrontal cortex, 20% fewer neurons in the thalamus, and 63% fewer glial cells in the corpus callosum. On the other hand, previous studies indicate normal numbers of neurons and glial cells in these same neuroanatomical regions in young NPC−/− mice. There were normal numbers of cholinergic neurons in sections assessed in the striatum and basal forebrain in the 11-week-old animals and no evidence of neurofibrillary tangles within cells. The present data indicate that both neurons and glial cells die in the NPC mouse but that all cells are not equally vulnerable. There was no evidence for neurofibrillary tangles in the NPC mouse, and therefore the degenerative process in the mouse is unrelated to the neurofibrillary tangle. J. Comp. Neurol. 433:415–425, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.