Role of Corticotropin-Releasing Factor in Cerebellar Motor Control and Ataxia
Cerebellar ataxia, characterized by motor incoordination, postural instability, and gait abnormality [1–3], greatly affects daily activities and quality of life. Although accumulating genetic and non-genetic etiological factors have been revealed [4–7], effective therapies for cerebellar ataxia are still lacking. Intriguingly, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a peptide hormone and neurotransmitter [8, 9], is considered a putative neurotransmitter in the olivo-cerebellar system [10–14]. Notably, decreased levels of CRF in the inferior olive (IO), the sole origin of cerebellar climbing fibers, have been reported in patients with spinocerebellar degeneration or olivopontocerebellar atrophy [15, 16], yet little is known about the exact role of CRF in cerebellar motor coordination and ataxia. Here we report that deficiency of CRF in the olivo-cerebellar system induces ataxia-like motor abnormalities. CRFergic neurons in the IO project directly to the cerebellar nuclei, the ultimate integration and output node of the cerebellum, and CRF selectively excites glutamatergic projection neurons rather than GABAergic neurons in the cerebellar interpositus nucleus (IN) via two CRF receptors, CRFR1 and CRFR2, and their downstream inward rectifier K+ channel and/or hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channel. Furthermore, CRF promotes cerebellar motor coordination and rescues ataxic motor deficits. The findings define a previously unknown role for CRF in the olivo-cerebellar system in the control of gait, posture, and motor coordination, and provide new insight into the etiology, pathophysiology, and treatment strategy of cerebellar ataxia.
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