SPAST (SPG4) HSP mechanism explained

Posted - June 2016 in Research Highlights

Potential drug treatment identified


Yongjun Fan, Alan Mackay-Sim, Gautam Wali

Research team (L to R) Dr. Yongjun Fan, Prof. Alan Mackay-Sim, Dr. Gautam Wali


This paper by the Australian HSP research team provides a detailed explanation of the mechanics of just how SPAST (SPG4) mutations cause HSP. It also reveals how the drug epothilone D restores cell function to normal, thus identifying it as a potential treatment for this form of HSP.



Hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) is an inherited neurological condition that leads to progressive spasticity and gait abnormalities. Adult-onset HSP is most commonly caused by mutations in SPAST, which encodes spastin a microtubule severing protein.

tracking peroxisome movement

tracking peroxisome movement


In olfactory stem cell lines derived from patients carrying different SPAST mutations, we investigated microtubule-dependent peroxisome movement with time-lapse imaging and automated image analysis. The average speed of peroxisomes in patient-cells was slower, with fewer fast moving peroxisomes than in cells from healthy controls. This was not because of impairment of peroxisome-microtubule interactions because the time-dependent saltatory dynamics of movement of individual peroxisomes was unaffected in patient-cells.


Our observations indicate that average peroxisome speeds are less in patient-cells because of the lower probability of individual peroxisome interactions with the reduced numbers of stable microtubules: peroxisome speeds in patient cells are restored by epothilone D, a tubulin-binding drug that increases the number of stable microtubules to control levels. Patient-cells were under increased oxidative stress and were more sensitive than control-cells to hydrogen peroxide, which is primarily metabolised by peroxisomal catalase. Epothilone D also ameliorated patient-cell sensitivity to hydrogen-peroxide.


Our findings suggest a mechanism for neurodegeneration whereby SPAST mutations indirectly lead to impaired peroxisome transport and oxidative stress.


Here is a link to the full text.


SOURCE: Sci Rep. 2016 May 27;6:27004. doi: 10.1038/srep27004 PMID: 27229699 [PubMed – in process]


Mechanism of impaired microtubule-dependent peroxisome trafficking and oxidative stress in SPAST-mutated cells from patients with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia.


Wali G1, Sutharsan R1, Fan Y1, Stewart R2, Tello Velasquez J1, Sue CM3, Crane DI1, Mackay-Sim A1.


1 Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.

2 The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, Brisbane, Australia.

3 Kolling Institute of Medical Research, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.

Comments on this story

  1. Rose posted at 7:19 am on 16 August 2016Reply

    would use of hydrogen peroxide with hair coloring in adolescents cause any of this deterioration of HSP.

  2. Brenda posted at 2:46 am on 31 August 2016Reply

    When would we be able to try this drug you found for Spg4 that could possibly be helpful? I am excited!!

    • Editor posted at 9:01 am on 31 August 2016Reply

      Editor’s Note: The next step is the clinical trials process, so in the best case scenario time and success wise, a treatment may be available in 2–3 years time… best case scenario!

  3. Courtney posted at 11:34 am on 11 October 2016Reply

    My daughter has been recently diagnosed with SPG4. She is 7years old. She doesn’t walk on her own, only with a walker or she crawls. I’m not sure how it could work being from the US, but I would love for her to be part of the clinical trial.

  4. Leo posted at 10:14 pm on 21 January 2021Reply

    Hello, I would like to know how far the experimentation of epothilone for patients with spg4 has progressed? Thanks

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