Loss of the dystonia-associated protein torsinA selectively disrupts the neuronal nuclear envelope.
An enigmatic feature of many genetic diseases is that mutations in widely expressed genes cause tissue-specific illness. One example is DYT1 dystonia, a neurodevelopmental disease caused by an in-frame deletion (Deltagag) in the gene encoding torsinA. Here we show that neurons from both torsinA null (Tor1a(-/-)) and homozygous disease mutant "knockin" mice (Tor1a(Deltagag/Deltagag)) contain severely abnormal nuclear membranes, although non-neuronal cell types appear normal. These membrane abnormalities develop in postmigratory embryonic neurons and subsequently worsen with further neuronal maturation, a finding evocative of the developmental dependence of DYT1 dystonia. These observations demonstrate that neurons have a unique requirement for nuclear envelope localized torsinA function and suggest that loss of this activity is a key molecular event in the pathogenesis of DYT1 dystonia.