The erythroid ankyrin gene (Ank1) produces a large and varied number of isoforms due to alternative splicing of the mRNA. In addition to expression in erythroid tissues, some of these Ank1 proteins are highly expressed in the Purkinje cells (PKC) of the mouse cerebellum. Mice deficient in Ank1 as a result of a mutation in the Ank1 gene (normoblastosis, nb) show a progressive loss of PKCs with an attendant ataxia. We have generated a panel of Ank1 antibodies to aid in sorting out the expression pattern and function of Ank1 proteins in the cerebellum. Two of these antibodies are specific to the alternatively spliced A and B COOH-terminal segments of Ank1. Immunohistochemical (IHC) experiments using these antibodies show strikingly different patterns of localization. Anti-C-termA (α-A) stains the PKC cell body and dendrites while anti-C-termB (α-B) is restricted to the PKC membrane. Both antibodies stain structures in the granule cell layer (GCL) including the granule cell membrane (α-B) and structures known as glomeruli where granule cell dendrites synapse with mossy fiber axons (α-A and α-B). Mossy fibers are a major afferent system that inputs to the cerebellum. α-A, α-B, antibodies to the α-1 subunit of Na+/K+ATPase (NaK-α1) and anti-Synapsin 1, a specific marker for synaptic vesicles, all co-localize in the glomeruli, suggesting a possible functional link. PKC membrane staining with α-B is absent in nb/nb cerebellum whereas PKC staining with α-A is unaffected. GCL staining with both antibodies is reduced in the mutant and this deficit may be important to PKC survival since granule cell axons are a major input system to PKC dendrites. Immunoblots stained with α-A and α-B are consistent with the IHC findings. In addition to the typical large isoforms (∼210kD) that are deficient in the nb mutant, immunoblots of cerebellar lysates reveal a number of small Ank1 related proteins ranging in size from 17 to 50 kD. The α-A and α-B banding patterns are unaffected by the nb mutation suggesting that they may be produced by splicing out the exon containing the nb mutation (E36) or by using an alternative promoter in the 3′ end of the gene as was found for the small Ank1 isoforms in skeletal muscle. Additional IHC findings using GFP-tagged PKC show a PKC axonopathy in nb/nb cerebellum. PKC axons exhibit multiple swellings that accumulate with age raising the possibility that axonal transport is abnormal in the nb PKCs. In summary 1) immunoblots reveal multiple previously undescribed small Ank1 isoforms in cerebellum, 2) two of the alternate Ank1 COOH-termini show very different localization in PKC suggesting distinct functions for the Ank1 proteins carrying them, 3) in the GCL, antibodies to the two COOH-termini co-localize with antibodies to the Na+/K+ATPase α-1 subunit in synaptic densities, 4) deficiencies of Ank1 in the GCL of nb/nb mice may influence PKC survival and 5) axonal transport may be affected in nb/nb PKC. These findings indicate that Ank1 proteins play a more varied role in the cerebellum than previously suspected and suggest new directions for the study of Ank1 function.

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