Pompe disease, caused by deficiency of acid alpha-glucosidase (GAA), leads to widespread glycogen accumulation and profound neuromuscular impairments. There has been controversy, however, regarding the role of central nervous system pathology in Pompe motor dysfunction. We hypothesized that absence of GAA protein causes progressive activation of neuropathological signaling, including pathways associated with cell death. To test this hypothesis, genomic data (Affymetrix Mouse Gene Array 2.0ST) from the mid-cervical spinal cord in 6- and 16-mo old Pompe (Gaa-/-) were evaluated (Broad Institute Molecular Signature Database), along with spinal cord histology. The mid-cervical cord was selected because it contains phrenic motoneurons, and phrenic-diaphragm dysfunction is prominent in Pompe disease. Several clinically important themes for the neurologic etiology of Pompe disease emerged from this unbiased genomic assessment. First, pathways associated with cell death were strongly upregulated as Gaa-/- mice aged, and motoneuron apoptosis was histologically verified. Second, pro-inflammatory signaling was dramatically upregulated in the Gaa-/- spinal cord. Third, many signal transduction pathways in the Gaa-/- cervical cord were altered in a manner suggestive of impaired synaptic function. Notably, glutamatergic signaling pathways were downregulated, as were "synaptic plasticity pathways" including genes related to neuroplasticity. Fourth, many genes and pathways related to cellular metabolism are dysregulated. Collectively, the data unequivocally confirm that systemic absence of GAA induces a complex neuropathological cascade in the spinal cord. Most importantly, the results indicate that Pompe is a neurodegenerative condition, and this underscores the need for early therapeutic intervention capable of targeting the central nervous system.
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