The maturation of cerebellar Purkinje cells of normal and nervous (nr/nr) mutant mice has been studied by light and electron microscopy. In the mutant, 90% of Purkinje cells selectively degenerate between postnatal days 23 and 50. Losses are greater in lateral than medial regions. Other cerebellar neurons appear normal. The first morphological abnormality recognized is the presence of rounded mitochondria in perikarya of some Purkinje cells of the mutant at 9 days after birth. By 15 days, all nr/nr Purkinje cells contain spherical mitochondria and begin to deviate from the normal maturational sequence. Elaboration of the extensive dendritic tree halts midway and newly formed axon collateral fibers degenerate. In the perikaryon, the basal polysomal accumulation and climbing fiber-somatic spine synapses are sometimes abnormally retained. Cisternae of the Golgi apparatus and rough endoplasmic reticulum cease to form aligned stacks, and decrease in number, while polysomes dissociate into free ribosomes. These changes are progressive, culminating in cell death. Although every nr/nr Purkinje cell demonstrates spherical mitochondria, some cells survive the critical period, retain a near-normal complement of organelles, and reacquire normal-appearing mitochondria. The disorder appears intrinsic to Purkinje cells since all major classes of synapses were identified before cell death.

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