Inactive Atm abrogates DSB repair in mouse cerebellum more than does Atm loss, without causing a neurological phenotype
The genome instability syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is caused by null mutations in the ATM gene, that lead to complete loss or inactivation of the gene's product, the ATM protein kinase. ATM is the primary mobilizer of the cellular response to DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) – a broad signaling network in which many components are ATM targets. The major clinical feature of A-T is cerebellar atrophy, characterized by relentless loss of Purkinje and granule cells. In Atm-knockout (Atm-KO) mice, complete loss of Atm leads to a very mild neurological phenotype, suggesting that Atm loss is not sufficient to markedly abrogate cerebellar structure and function in this organism. Expression of inactive (“kinase-dead”) Atm (AtmKD) in mice leads to embryonic lethality, raising the question of whether conditional expression of AtmKD in the murine nervous system would lead to a more pronounced neurological phenotype than Atm loss. We generated two mouse strains in which AtmKD was conditionally expressed as the sole Atm species: one in the CNS and one specifically in Purkinje cells. Focusing our analysis on Purkinje cells, the dynamics of DSB readouts indicated that DSB repair was delayed longer in the presence of AtmKD compared to Atm loss. However, both strains exhibited normal life span and displayed no gross cerebellar histological abnormalities or significant neurological phenotype. We conclude that the presence of AtmKD is indeed more harmful to DSB repair than Atm loss, but the murine central nervous system can reasonably tolerate the extent of this DSB repair impairment. Greater pressure needs to be exerted on genome stability to obtain a mouse model that recapitulates the severe A-T neurological phenotype.