Infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (INCL, or CLN1 disease) is an inherited neurodegenerative storage disorder caused by a deficiency of the lysosomal enzyme palmitoyl protein thioesterase 1 (PPT1). It was widely believed that the pathology associated with INCL was limited to the brain, but we have now found unexpectedly profound pathology in the human INCL spinal cord. Similar pathological changes also occur at every level of the spinal cord of PPT1-deficient (Ppt1−/−) mice before the onset of neuropathology in the brain. Various forebrain-directed gene therapy approaches have only had limited success in Ppt1−/− mice. Targeting the spinal cord via intrathecal administration of an adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene transfer vector significantly prevented pathology and produced significant improvements in life span and motor function in Ppt1−/− mice. Surprisingly, forebrain-directed gene therapy resulted in essentially no PPT1 activity in the spinal cord, and vice versa. This leads to a reciprocal pattern of histological correction in the respective tissues when comparing intracranial with intrathecal injections. However, the characteristic pathological features of INCL were almost completely absent in both the brain and spinal cord when intracranial and intrathecal injections of the same AAV vector were combined. Targeting both the brain and spinal cord also produced dramatic and synergistic improvements in motor function with an unprecedented increase in life span. These data show that spinal cord pathology significantly contributes to the clinical progression of INCL and can be effectively targeted therapeutically. This has important implications for the delivery of therapies in INCL, and potentially in other similar disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E5920-E5929
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number29
StatePublished - Jul 18 2017


  • Adeno-associated virus
  • Brain
  • Combination therapy
  • Infantile Batten disease
  • Spinal cord


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