Consequences of NPC1 and NPC2 loss of function in mammalian neurons

Steven U. Walkley, Kinuko Suzuki

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

229 Scopus citations


Genetic deficiency of NPC1 or NPC2 results in a devastating cholesterol-glycosphingolipidosis of brain and other organs known as Niemann - Pick type C (NPC) disease. While NPC1 is a transmembrane protein believed involved in retroendocytic shuttling of substrate(s) to the Golgi and possibly elsewhere in cells as part of an essential recycling/homeostatic control mechanism, NPC2 is a soluble lysosomal protein known to bind cholesterol. The precise role(s) of NPC1 and NPC2 in endosomala-lysosomal function remain unclear, nor is it known whether the two proteins directly interact as part of this function. The pathologic features of NPC disease, however, are well documented. Brain cells undergo massive intracellular accumulation of glycosphingolipids (lactosylceramide, glucosylceramide, GM2 and GM3 gangliosides) and cholesterol and concomitant distortion of neuron shape (meganeurite formation). In neurons from humans with NPC disease the metabolic defects and storage often lead to extensive growth of new, ectopic dendrites (possibly linked to ganglioside sequestration) as well as formation of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) (possibly linked to dysregulation of cholesterol metabolism). Other features of cellular pathology in NPC disease include fragmentation of the Golgi apparatus and neuroaxonal dystrophy, though reasons for these changes remain largely unknown. As the disease progresses, neurodegeneration is also apparent for neurons in some brain regions, particularly Purkinje cells of the cerebellum, but the basis of this selective neuronal vulnerability is unknown. The NPC1 protein is evolutionarily conserved with homologues reported in yeast to humans; NPC2 is reported in C. elegans to humans. While neurons in mammalian models of NPC1 and NPC2 diseases exhibit many changes that are remarkably similar to those in humans (e.g., endosomal/lysosomal storage, Golgi fragmentation, neuroaxonal dystrophy, neurodegeneration), a reduced degree of ectopic dendritogenesis and an absence of NFTs in these species suggest important differences in the way lower mammalian neurons respond to NPC1/NPC2 loss of function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-62
Number of pages15
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Oct 11 2004


  • Axonal spheroid
  • Dendritogenesis
  • Endosome
  • Golgi fragmentation
  • Lysosome
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Neurofibrillary tangle
  • Niemann - Pick type C

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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