PURPOSE - To investigate optic nerve degeneration associated with CLN3 deficiency in a murine model of juvenile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (Batten disease).
METHODS - Using light and electron microscopy, the density and diameter of axons and the thickness of myelin in optic nerve were compared between age-matched cln3 knock-out (cln3-/-) and wild-type (129ev/TAC) mice. Western blot analysis was used to assay expression of Cln3 in mouse and primate retina and optic nerve.
RESULTS - Morphologically identified mast cells were present in the meningeal sheaths surrounding the cln3-/- nerve and in the nerve itself. The cln3-/- optic nerve exhibited an overall loss of uniformity and integrity. Axon density in cln3-/- optic nerve was only 64% of that in wild-type optic nerve (P < 0.01). Accounting for differences in axon density, the diameter of axons in cln3-/- optic nerve was 1.2 times greater than in wild-type optic nerve (P < 0.01). Electron micrographs revealed large spaces between axons and 32% thinner myelin surrounding axons in cln3-/- mice than in wild type (P < 0.01). Western blot analysis demonstrated that Cln3 was expressed in retinas and optic nerves of mouse and primate.
CONCLUSIONS - The presence of apparent mast cells in cln3-/- optic nerve suggests compromise of the blood-brain barrier. The absence of Cln3 causes loss of axons, axonal hypertrophy, and a reduction in myelination of retinal ganglion cells. Furthermore, expression of CLN3 in mouse and primate optic nerve links degeneration to loss of Cln3.