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1.  Loss of Axonal Mitochondria Promotes Tau-Mediated Neurodegeneration and Alzheimer's Disease–Related Tau Phosphorylation Via PAR-1 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(8):e1002918.
Abnormal phosphorylation and toxicity of a microtubule-associated protein tau are involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD); however, what pathological conditions trigger tau abnormality in AD is not fully understood. A reduction in the number of mitochondria in the axon has been implicated in AD. In this study, we investigated whether and how loss of axonal mitochondria promotes tau phosphorylation and toxicity in vivo. Using transgenic Drosophila expressing human tau, we found that RNAi–mediated knockdown of milton or Miro, an adaptor protein essential for axonal transport of mitochondria, enhanced human tau-induced neurodegeneration. Tau phosphorylation at an AD–related site Ser262 increased with knockdown of milton or Miro; and partitioning defective-1 (PAR-1), the Drosophila homolog of mammalian microtubule affinity-regulating kinase, mediated this increase of tau phosphorylation. Tau phosphorylation at Ser262 has been reported to promote tau detachment from microtubules, and we found that the levels of microtubule-unbound free tau increased by milton knockdown. Blocking tau phosphorylation at Ser262 site by PAR-1 knockdown or by mutating the Ser262 site to unphosphorylatable alanine suppressed the enhancement of tau-induced neurodegeneration caused by milton knockdown. Furthermore, knockdown of milton or Miro increased the levels of active PAR-1. These results suggest that an increase in tau phosphorylation at Ser262 through PAR-1 contributes to tau-mediated neurodegeneration under a pathological condition in which axonal mitochondria is depleted. Intriguingly, we found that knockdown of milton or Miro alone caused late-onset neurodegeneration in the fly brain, and this neurodegeneration could be suppressed by knockdown of Drosophila tau or PAR-1. Our results suggest that loss of axonal mitochondria may play an important role in tau phosphorylation and toxicity in the pathogenesis of AD.
Author Summary
Abnormal phosphorylation and toxicity of a microtubule-associated protein tau are involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Tau is phosphorylated at multiple sites, and phosphorylation of tau regulates its microtubule binding and physiological functions such as regulation of microtubule stability. Abnormal phosphorylation of tau occurs in the AD brains and is thought to cause tau toxicity; however, what pathological conditions trigger abnormal phosphorylation and toxicity of tau in AD is not fully understood. Since a reduction in the number of mitochondria in the axon has been observed in the AD brains, we investigated whether and how loss of axonal mitochondria promotes tau phosphorylation and toxicity. Using transgenic flies expressing human tau, we found that knockdown of milton or Miro, an adaptor protein essential for axonal transport of mitochondria, enhanced human tau-induced neurodegeneration. This study demonstrates that loss of axonal mitochondria caused by milton knockdown increases tau phosphorylation at an AD–related site through partitioning defective-1 (PAR-1), promotes detachment of tau from microtubules, and enhances tau-mediated neurodegeneration. Our results suggest that loss of axonal mitochondria may play an important role in tau phosphorylation and toxicity in the pathogenesis of AD.
PMCID: PMC3431335  PMID: 22952452
2.  Implicating Calpain in Tau-Mediated Toxicity In Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23865.
Alzheimer's disease and other related neurodegenerative disorders known as tauopathies are characterized by the accumulation of abnormally phosphorylated and aggregated forms of the microtubule-associated protein tau. Several laboratories have identified a 17 kD proteolytic fragment of tau in degenerating neurons and in numerous cell culture models that is generated by calpain cleavage and speculated to contribute to tau toxicity. In the current study, we employed a Drosophila tauopathy model to investigate the importance of calpain-mediated tau proteolysis in contributing to tau neurotoxicity in an animal model of human neurodegenerative disease. We found that mutations that disrupted endogenous calpainA or calpainB activity in transgenic flies suppressed tau toxicity. Expression of a calpain-resistant form of tau in Drosophila revealed that mutating the putative calpain cleavage sites that produce the 17 kD fragment was sufficient to abrogate tau toxicity in vivo. Furthermore, we found significant toxicity in the fly retina associated with expression of only the 17 kD tau fragment. Collectively, our data implicate calpain-mediated proteolysis of tau as an important pathway mediating tau neurotoxicity in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3157467  PMID: 21858230
3.  A Novel Blood-Brain Barrier Co-Culture System for Drug Targeting of Alzheimer’s Disease: Establishment by Using Acitretin as a Model Drug 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91003.
In the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) the homeostasis of amyloid precursor protein (APP) processing in the brain is impaired. The expression of the competing proteases ADAM10 (a disintegrin and metalloproteinase 10) and BACE-1 (beta site APP cleaving enzyme 1) is shifted in favor of the A-beta generating enzyme BACE-1. Acitretin–a synthetic retinoid–e.g., has been shown to increase ADAM10 gene expression, resulting in a decreased level of A-beta peptides within the brain of AD model mice and thus is of possible value for AD therapy. A striking challenge in evaluating novel therapeutically applicable drugs is the analysis of their potential to overcome the blood-brain barrier (BBB) for central nervous system targeting. In this study, we established a novel cell-based bio-assay model to test ADAM10-inducing drugs for their ability to cross the BBB. We therefore used primary porcine brain endothelial cells (PBECs) and human neuroblastoma cells (SH-SY5Y) transfected with an ADAM10-promoter luciferase reporter vector in an indirect co-culture system. Acitretin served as a model substance that crosses the BBB and induces ADAM10 expression. We ensured that ADAM10-dependent constitutive APP metabolism in the neuronal cells was unaffected under co-cultivation conditions. Barrier properties established by PBECs were augmented by co-cultivation with SH-SY5Y cells and they remained stable during the treatment with acitretin as demonstrated by electrical resistance measurement and permeability-coefficient determination. As a consequence of transcellular acitretin transport measured by HPLC, the activity of the ADAM10-promoter reporter gene was significantly increased in co-cultured neuronal cells as compared to vehicle-treated controls. In the present study, we provide a new bio-assay system relevant for the study of drug targeting of AD. This bio-assay can easily be adapted to analyze other Alzheimer- or CNS disease-relevant targets in neuronal cells, as their therapeutical potential also depends on the ability to penetrate the BBB.
PMCID: PMC3946622  PMID: 24608847
4.  Organophosphate-Induced Changes in the PKA Regulatory Function of Swiss Cheese/NTE Lead to Behavioral Deficits and Neurodegeneration 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87526.
Organophosphate-induced delayed neuropathy (OPIDN) is a Wallerian-type axonopathy that occurs weeks after exposure to certain organophosphates (OPs). OPs have been shown to bind to Neuropathy Target Esterase (NTE), thereby inhibiting its enzymatic activity. However, only OPs that also induce the so-called aging reaction cause OPIDN. This reaction results in the release and possible transfer of a side group from the bound OP to NTE and it has been suggested that this induces an unknown toxic function of NTE. To further investigate the mechanisms of aging OPs, we used Drosophila, which expresses a functionally conserved orthologue of NTE named Swiss Cheese (SWS). Treating flies with the organophosporous compound tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate (TOCP) resulted in behavioral deficits and neurodegeneration two weeks after exposure, symptoms similar to the delayed effects observed in other models. In addition, we found that primary neurons showed signs of axonal degeneration within an hour after treatment. Surprisingly, increasing the levels of SWS, and thereby its enzymatic activity after exposure, did not ameliorate these phenotypes. In contrast, reducing SWS levels protected from TOCP-induced degeneration and behavioral deficits but did not affect the axonopathy observed in cell culture. Besides its enzymatic activity as a phospholipase, SWS also acts as regulatory PKA subunit, binding and inhibiting the C3 catalytic subunit. Measuring PKA activity in TOCP treated flies revealed a significant decrease that was also confirmed in treated rat hippocampal neurons. Flies expressing additional PKA-C3 were protected from the behavioral and degenerative phenotypes caused by TOCP exposure whereas primary neurons were not. In addition, knocking-down PKA-C3 caused similar behavioral and degenerative phenotypes as TOCP treatment. We therefore propose a model in which OP-modified SWS cannot release PKA-C3 and that the resulting loss of PKA-C3 activity plays a crucial role in developing the delayed symptoms of OPIDN but not in the acute toxicity.
PMCID: PMC3928115  PMID: 24558370
5.  Amyloid-Precursor-Protein-Lowering Small Molecules for Disease Modifying Therapy of Alzheimer's Disease 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82255.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia in the elderly with progressive cognitive decline and memory loss. According to the amyloid-hypothesis, AD is caused by generation and subsequent cerebral deposition of β-amyloid (Aβ). Aβ is generated through sequential cleavage of the transmembrane Amyloid-Precursor-Protein (APP) by two endoproteinases termed beta- and gamma-secretase. Increased APP-expression caused by APP gene dosage effects is a risk factor for the development of AD. Here we carried out a large scale screen for novel compounds aimed at decreasing APP-expression. For this we developed a screening system employing a cell culture model of AD. A total of 10,000 substances selected for their ability of drug-likeness and chemical diversity were tested for their potential to decrease APP-expression resulting in reduced Aβ-levels. Positive compounds were further evaluated for their effect at lower concentrations, absence of cytotoxicity and specificity. The six most promising compounds were characterized and structure function relationships were established. The novel compounds presented here provide valuable information for the development of causal therapies for AD.
PMCID: PMC3867334  PMID: 24367508
6.  Soluble β-amyloid Precursor Protein Alpha Binds to p75 Neurotrophin Receptor to Promote Neurite Outgrowth 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82321.
The cleavage of β-amyloid precursor protein (APP) generates multiple proteins: Soluble β-amyloid Precursor Protein Alpha (sAPPα), sAPPβ, and amyloid β (Aβ). Previous studies have shown that sAPPα and sAPPβ possess neurotrophic properties, whereas Aβ is neurotoxic. However, the underlying mechanism of the opposing effects of APP fragments remains poorly understood. In this study, we have investigated the mechanism of sAPPα-mediated neurotrophic effects. sAPPα and sAPPβ interact with p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR), and sAPPα promotes neurite outgrowth.
Methods and Findings
First, we investigated whether APP fragments interact with p75NTR, because full-length APP and Aβ have been shown to interact with p75NTR in vitro. Both sAPPα and sAPPβ were co-immunoprecipitated with p75NTR and co-localized with p75NTR on COS-7 cells. The binding affinity of sAPPα and sAPPβ for p75NTR was confirmed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Next, we investigated the effect of sAPPα on neurite outgrowth in mouse cortical neurons. Neurite outgrowth was promoted by sAPPα, but sAPPα was uneffective in a knockdown of p75NTR.
We conclude that p75NTR is the receptor for sAPPα to mediate neurotrophic effects.
PMCID: PMC3864954  PMID: 24358169
7.  Traumatic Brain Injury Precipitates Cognitive Impairment and Extracellular Aβ Aggregation in Alzheimer's Disease Transgenic Mice 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e78851.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has become a signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many American soldiers, even those undiagnosed but likely suffering from mild TBI, display Alzheimer's disease (AD)-like cognitive impairments, suggesting a pathological overlap between TBI and AD. This study examined the cognitive and neurohistological effects of TBI in presymptomatic APP/PS1 AD-transgenic mice. AD mice and non-transgenic (NT) mice received an experimental TBI on the right parietal cortex using the controlled cortical impact model. Animals were trained in a water maze task for spatial memory before TBI, and then reevaluated in the same task at two and six weeks post-TBI. The results showed that AD mice with TBI made significantly more errors in the task than AD mice without TBI and NT mice regardless of TBI. A separate group of AD mice and NT mice were evaluated neurohistologically at six weeks after TBI. The number of extracellular beta-amyloid (Aβ)-deposits significantly increased by at least one fold in the cortex of AD mice that received TBI compared to the NT mice that received TBI or the AD and NT mice that underwent sham surgery. A significant decrease in MAP2 positive cells, indicating neuronal loss, was observed in the cortex of both the AD and NT mice that received TBI compared to the AD and NT mice subjected to sham surgery. Similar changes in extracellular Aβ deposits and MAP2 positive cells were also seen in the hippocampus. These results demonstrate for the first time that TBI precipitates cognitive impairment in presymptomatic AD mice, while also confirming extracellular Aβ deposits following TBI. The recognition of this pathological link between TBI and AD should aid in developing novel treatments directed at abrogating cellular injury and extracellular Aβ deposition in the brain.
PMCID: PMC3817089  PMID: 24223856
8.  Characterization of Novel CSF Tau and ptau Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s Disease 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e76523.
Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) Aβ42, tau and p181tau are widely accepted biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Numerous studies show that CSF tau and p181tau levels are elevated in mild-to-moderate AD compared to age-matched controls. In addition, these increases might predict preclinical AD in cognitively normal elderly. Despite their importance as biomarkers, the molecular nature of CSF tau and ptau is not known. In the current study, reverse-phase high performance liquid chromatography was used to enrich and concentrate tau prior to western-blot analysis. Multiple N-terminal and mid-domain fragments of tau were detected in pooled CSF with apparent sizes ranging from <20 kDa to ~40 kDa. The pattern of tau fragments in AD and control samples were similar. In contrast, full-length tau and C-terminal-containing fragments were not detected. To quantify levels, five tau ELISAs and three ptau ELISAs were developed to detect different overlapping regions of the protein. The discriminatory potential of each assay was determined using 20 AD and 20 age-matched control CSF samples. Of the tau ELISAs, the two assays specific for tau containing N-terminal sequences, amino acids 9-198 (numbering based on tau 441) and 9-163, exhibited the most significant differences between AD and control samples. In contrast, CSF tau was not detected with an ELISA specific for a more C-terminal region (amino acids 159-335). Significant discrimination was also observed with ptau assays measuring amino acids 159-p181 and 159-p231. Interestingly, the discriminatory potential of p181 was reduced when measured in the context of tau species containing amino acids 9-p181. Taken together, these results demonstrate that tau in CSF occurs as a series of fragments and that discrimination of AD from control is dependent on the subset of tau species measured. These assays provide novel tools to investigate CSF tau and ptau as biomarkers for other neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC3792042  PMID: 24116116
9.  Disruption of Glycerol Metabolism by RNAi Targeting of Genes Encoding Glycerol Kinase Results in a Range of Phenotype Severity in Drosophila 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e71664.
In Drosophila, RNAi targeting of either dGyk or dGK can result in two alternative phenotypes: adult glycerol hypersensitivity or larval lethality. Here we compare these two phenotypes at the level of glycerol kinase (GK) phosphorylation activity, dGyk and dGK-RNA expression, and glycerol levels. We found both phenotypes exhibit reduced but similar levels of GK phosphorylation activity. Reduced RNA expression levels of dGyk and dGK corresponded with RNAi progeny that developed into glycerol hypersensitive adult flies. However, quantification of dGyk/dGK expression levels for the larval lethality phenotype revealed unexpected levels possibly due to a compensatory mechanism between dGyk and dGK or RNAi inhibition. The enzymatic role of glycerol kinase converts glycerol to glycerol 3-phosphate. As expected, elevated glycerol levels were observed in larvae that went on to develop into glycerol hypersensitive adults. Interestingly, larvae that died before eclosion revealed extremely low glycerol levels. Further characterization identified a wing phenotype that is enhanced by a dGpdh null mutation, indicating disrupted glycerol metabolism underlies the wing phenotype. In humans, glycerol kinase deficiency (GKD) exhibits a wide range of phenotypic variation with no obvious genotype-phenotype correlations. Additionally, disease severity often does not correlate with GK phosphorylation activity. It is intriguing that both human GKD patients and our GKD Drosophila model show a range of phenotype severity. Additionally, the lack of correlation between GK phosphorylation and dGyk/dGK-RNA expression with phenotypic severity suggests further study including understanding the alternative functions of the GK protein, could provide insights into the complex pathogenic mechanism observed in human GKD patients.
PMCID: PMC3765373  PMID: 24039719
10.  Efficacy and Safety of A Liposome-Based Vaccine against Protein Tau, Assessed in Tau.P301L Mice That Model Tauopathy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e72301.
Progressive aggregation of protein Tau into oligomers and fibrils correlates with cognitive decline and synaptic dysfunction, leading to neurodegeneration in vulnerable brain regions in Alzheimer's disease. The unmet need of effective therapy for Alzheimer's disease, combined with problematic pharmacological approaches, led the field to explore immunotherapy, first against amyloid peptides and recently against protein Tau. Here we adapted the liposome-based amyloid vaccine that proved safe and efficacious, and incorporated a synthetic phosphorylated peptide to mimic the important phospho-epitope of protein Tau at residues pS396/pS404. We demonstrate that the liposome-based vaccine elicited, rapidly and robustly, specific antisera in wild-type mice and in Tau.P301L mice. Long-term vaccination proved to be safe, because it improved the clinical condition and reduced indices of tauopathy in the brain of the Tau.P301L mice, while no signs of neuro-inflammation or other adverse neurological effects were observed. The data corroborate the hypothesis that liposomes carrying phosphorylated peptides of protein Tau have considerable potential as safe and effective treatment against tauopathies, including Alzheimer's disease.
PMCID: PMC3747157  PMID: 23977276
11.  GSK3B and MAPT Polymorphisms Are Associated with Grey Matter and Intracranial Volume in Healthy Individuals 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71750.
The microtubule-associated protein tau gene (MAPT) codes for a protein that plays an integral role in stabilisation of microtubules and axonal transport in neurons. As well as its role in susceptibility to neurodegeneration, previous studies have found an association between the MAPT haplotype and intracranial volume and regional grey matter volumes in healthy adults. The glycogen synthase kinase-3β gene (GSK3B) codes for a serine/threonine kinase that phosphorylates various proteins, including tau, and has also been associated with risk for neurodegenerative disorders and schizophrenia. We examined the effects of MAPT and two functional promoter polymorphisms in GSK3B (rs3755557 and rs334558) on total grey matter and intracranial volume in three independent cohorts totaling 776 neurologically healthy individuals. In vitro analyses revealed a significant effect of rs3755557 on gene expression, and altered binding of at least two transcription factors, Octamer transcription factor 1 (Oct-1) and Pre-B-cell leukemia transcription factor 1 (Pbx-1), to the GSK3B promoter. Meta-analysis across the three cohorts revealed a significant effect of rs3755557 on total grey matter volume (summary B = 0.082, 95% confidence interval = 0.037–0.128) and intracranial volume (summary B = 0.113, 95% confidence interval = 0.082–0.144). No significant effect was observed for MAPT H1/H2 diplotype or GSK3B rs334558 on total grey matter or intracranial volume. Our genetic and biochemical analyses have identified a role for GSK3B in brain development, which could have important aetiological implications for neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders.
PMCID: PMC3741177  PMID: 23951236
12.  Novel 5′ Untranslated Region Directed Blockers of Iron-Regulatory Protein-1 Dependent Amyloid Precursor Protein Translation: Implications for Down Syndrome and Alzheimer's Disease 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e65978.
We reported that iron influx drives the translational expression of the neuronal amyloid precursor protein (APP), which has a role in iron efflux. This is via a classic release of repressor interaction of APP mRNA with iron-regulatory protein-1 (IRP1) whereas IRP2 controls the mRNAs encoding the L- and H-subunits of the iron storage protein, ferritin. Here, we identified thirteen potent APP translation blockers that acted selectively towards the uniquely configured iron-responsive element (IRE) RNA stem loop in the 5′ untranslated region (UTR) of APP mRNA. These agents were 10-fold less inhibitory of 5′UTR sequences of the related prion protein (PrP) mRNA. Western blotting confirmed that the ‘ninth’ small molecule in the series selectively reduced neural APP production in SH-SY5Y cells at picomolar concentrations without affecting viability or the expression of α-synuclein and ferritin. APP blocker-9 (JTR-009), a benzimidazole, reduced the production of toxic Aβ in SH-SY5Y neuronal cells to a greater extent than other well tolerated APP 5′UTR-directed translation blockers, including posiphen, that were shown to limit amyloid burden in mouse models of Alzheimer's disease (AD). RNA binding assays demonstrated that JTR-009 operated by preventing IRP1 from binding to the IRE in APP mRNA, while maintaining IRP1 interaction with the H-ferritin IRE RNA stem loop. Thus, JTR-009 constitutively repressed translation driven by APP 5′UTR sequences. Calcein staining showed that JTR-009 did not indirectly change iron uptake in neuronal cells suggesting a direct interaction with the APP 5′UTR. These studies provide key data to develop small molecules that selectively reduce neural APP and Aβ production at 10-fold lower concentrations than related previously characterized translation blockers. Our data evidenced a novel therapeutic strategy of potential impact for people with trisomy of the APP gene on chromosome 21, which is a phenotype long associated with Down syndrome (DS) that can also cause familial Alzheimer's disease.
PMCID: PMC3729844  PMID: 23935819
13.  A Luminex Assay Detects Amyloid β Oligomers in Alzheimer’s Disease Cerebrospinal Fluid 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e67898.
Amyloid beta (aβ) protein assembles into larger protein aggregates during the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and there is increasing evidence that soluble aβ oligomers are a critical pathologic species. Diagnostic evaluations rely on the measurement of increased tau and decreased aβ42 in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from AD patients and evidence for oligomeric aβ in patient CSF is conflicting. In this study, we have adapted a monoclonal single antibody sandwich ELISA assay to a Luminex platform and found that this assay can detect oligomerized aβ42 and sAPPα fragments. We evaluated oligomeric aβ reactivity in 20 patients with AD relative to 19 age matched controls and compared these values with a commercially available Alzbio3 kit that detects tau, phosphorylated tau and aβ42 on the same diagnostic platform. We found that CSF samples of patients with AD had elevated aβ oligomers compared to control subjects (p < 0.05) and the ratio of aβ oligomers to aβ42 was also significantly elevated (p < 0.0001). Further research to develop high sensitivity analytical platforms and rigorous methods of developing stable assay standards will be needed before the analysis of oligomeric aβ becomes a routine diagnostic assay for the evaluation of late onset AD patients.
PMCID: PMC3699502  PMID: 23844122
14.  NMDA-Receptor Activation but Not Ion Flux Is Required for Amyloid-Beta Induced Synaptic Depression 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65350.
Alzheimer disease is characterized by a gradual decrease of synaptic function and, ultimately, by neuronal loss. There is considerable evidence supporting the involvement of oligomeric amyloid-beta (Aβ) in the etiology of Alzheimer’s disease. Historically, AD research has mainly focused on the long-term changes caused by Aβ rather than analyzing its immediate effects. Here we show that acute perfusion of hippocampal slice cultures with oligomeric Aβ depresses synaptic transmission within 20 minutes. This depression is dependent on synaptic stimulation and the activation of NMDA-receptors, but not on NMDA-receptor mediated ion flux. It, therefore, appears that Aβ dependent synaptic depression is mediated through a use-dependent metabotropic-like mechanism of the NMDA-receptor, but does not involve NMDA-receptor mediated synaptic transmission, i.e. it is independent of calcium flux through the NMDA-receptor.
PMCID: PMC3672194  PMID: 23750255
15.  A New Mint1 Isoform, but Not the Conventional Mint1, Interacts with the Small GTPase Rab6 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e64149.
Small GTPases of the Rab family are important regulators of a large variety of different cellular functions such as membrane organization and vesicle trafficking. They have been shown to play a role in several human diseases. One prominent member, Rab6, is thought to be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, the most prevalent mental disorder worldwide. Previous studies have shown that Rab6 impairs the processing of the amyloid precursor protein (APP), which is cleaved to β-amyloid in brains of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Additionally, all three members of the Mint adaptor family are implied to participate in the amyloidogenic pathway. Here, we report the identification of a new Mint1 isoform in a yeast two-hybrid screening, Mint1 826, which lacks an eleven amino acid (aa) sequence in the conserved C-terminal region. Mint1 826, but not the conventional Mint1, interacts with Rab6 via the PTB domain. This interaction is nucleotide-dependent, Rab6-specific and influences the subcellular localization of Mint1 826. We were able to detect and sequence a corresponding proteolytic peptide derived from cellular Mint1 826 by mass spectrometry proving the absence of aa 495–505 and could show that the deletion does not influence the ability of this adaptor protein to interact with APP. Taking into account that APP interacts and co-localizes with Mint1 826 and is transported in Rab6 positive vesicles, our data suggest that Mint1 826 bridges APP to the small GTPase at distinct cellular sorting points, establishing Mint1 826 as an important player in regulation of APP trafficking and processing.
PMCID: PMC3667844  PMID: 23737971
16.  Development of Frataxin Gene Expression Measures for the Evaluation of Experimental Treatments in Friedreich’s Ataxia 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63958.
Friedreich ataxia is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by GAA triplet repeat expansions or point mutations in the FXN gene and, ultimately, a deficiency in the levels of functional frataxin protein. Heterozygous carriers of the expansion express approximately 50% of normal frataxin levels yet manifest no clinical symptoms, suggesting that therapeutic approaches that increase frataxin may be effective even if frataxin is raised only to carrier levels. Small molecule HDAC inhibitor compounds increase frataxin mRNA and protein levels, and have beneficial effects in animal models of FRDA.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To gather data supporting the use of frataxin as a therapeutic biomarker of drug response we characterized the intra-individual stability of frataxin over time, determined the contribution of frataxin from different components of blood, compared frataxin measures in different cell compartments, and demonstrated that frataxin increases are achieved in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Frataxin mRNA and protein levels were stable with repeated sampling over four and 15 weeks. In the 15-week study, the average CV was 15.6% for protein and 18% for mRNA. Highest levels of frataxin in blood were in erythrocytes. As erythrocytes are not useful for frataxin assessment in many clinical trial situations, we confirmed that PBMCs and buccal swabs have frataxin levels equivalent to those of whole blood. In addition, a dose-dependent increase in frataxin was observed when PBMCs isolated from patient blood were treated with HDACi. Finally, higher frataxin levels predicted less severe neurological dysfunction and were associated with slower rates of neurological change.
Our data support the use of frataxin as a biomarker of drug effect. Frataxin levels are stable over time and as such a 1.5 to 2-fold change would be detectable over normal biological fluctuations. Additionally, our data support buccal cells or PBMCs as sources for measuring frataxin protein in therapeutic trials.
PMCID: PMC3656936  PMID: 23691127
17.  FTY720/Fingolimod, a Sphingosine Analogue, Reduces Amyloid-β Production in Neurons 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e64050.
Sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) is a pluripotent lipophilic mediator working as a ligand for G-protein coupled S1P receptors (S1PR), which is currently highlighted as a therapeutic target for autoimmune diseases including relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis. Sphingosine related compounds, FTY720 and KRP203 known as S1PR modulators, are phosphorylated by sphingosine kinase 2 (SphK2) to yield the active metabolites FTY720-P and KRP203-P, which work as functional antagonists for S1PRs. Here we report that FTY720 and KRP203 decreased production of Amyloid-β peptide (Aβ), a pathogenic proteins causative for Alzheimer disease (AD), in cultured neuronal cells. Pharmacological analyses suggested that the mechanism of FTY720-mediated Aβ decrease in cells was independent of known downstream signaling pathways of S1PRs. Unexpectedly, 6-days treatment of APP transgenic mice with FTY720 resulted in a decrease in Aβ40, but an increase in Aβ42 levels in brains. These results suggest that S1PR modulators are novel type of regulators for Aβ metabolisms that are active in vitro and in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3646787  PMID: 23667698
18.  Oleuropein Aglycone Protects Transgenic C. elegans Strains Expressing Aβ42 by Reducing Plaque Load and Motor Deficit 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e58893.
The presence of amyloid aggregates of the 42 amino acid peptide of amyloid beta (Aβ42) in the brain is the characteristic feature of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Amyloid beta (Aβ deposition is also found in muscle fibers of individuals affected by inclusion body myositis (sIBM), a rare muscular degenerative disease affecting people over 50. Both conditions are presently lacking an effective therapeutic treatment. There is increasing evidence to suggest that natural polyphenols may prevent the formation of toxic amyloid aggregates; this applies also to oleuropein aglycone (OLE), the most abundant polyphenol in extra virgin olive oil, previously shown to hinder amylin and Aβ aggregation. Here we evaluated the ability of OLE to interfere with Aβ proteotoxicity in vivo by using the transgenic CL2006 and CL4176 strains of Caenorhabditis elegans, simplified models of AD and of sIBM, which express human Aβ in the cytoplasm of body wall muscle cells. OLE-fed CL2006 worms displayed reduced Aβ plaque deposition, less abundant toxic Aβ oligomers, remarkably decreased paralysis and increased lifespan with respect to untreated animals. A protective effect was also observed in CL4176 worms but only when OLE was administered before the induction of the Aβ transgene expression. These effects were specific, dose-related, and not mediated by the known polyphenolic anti-oxidant activity, suggesting that, in this model organism, OLE interferes with the Aβ aggregation skipping the appearance of toxic species, as already shown in vitro for Aβ42.
PMCID: PMC3592812  PMID: 23520540
19.  Accumulation of Intraneuronal β-Amyloid 42 Peptides Is Associated with Early Changes in Microtubule-Associated Protein 2 in Neurites and Synapses 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e51965.
Pathologic aggregation of β-amyloid (Aβ) peptide and the axonal microtubule-associated protein tau protein are hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Evidence supports that Aβ peptide accumulation precedes microtubule-related pathology, although the link between Aβ and tau remains unclear. We previously provided evidence for early co-localization of Aβ42 peptides and hyperphosphorylated tau within postsynaptic terminals of CA1 dendrites in the hippocampus of AD transgenic mice. Here, we explore the relation between Aβ peptide accumulation and the dendritic, microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP2) in the well-characterized amyloid precursor protein Swedish mutant transgenic mouse (Tg2576). We provide evidence that localized intraneuronal accumulation of Aβ42 peptides is spatially associated with reductions of MAP2 in dendrites and postsynaptic compartments of Tg2576 mice at early ages. Our data support that reduction in MAP2 begins at sites of Aβ42 monomer and low molecular weight oligomer (M/LMW) peptide accumulation. Cumulative evidence suggests that accumulation of M/LMW Aβ42 peptides occurs early, before high molecular weight oligomerization and plaque formation. Since synaptic alteration is the best pathologic correlate of cognitive dysfunction in AD, the spatial association of M/LMW Aβ peptide accumulation with pathology of MAP2 within neuronal processes and synaptic compartments early in the disease process reinforces the importance of intraneuronal Aβ accumulation in AD pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3553177  PMID: 23372648
20.  JNK Pathway Activation Is Controlled by Tao/TAOK3 to Modulate Ethanol Sensitivity 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e50594.
Neuronal signal transduction by the JNK MAP kinase pathway is altered by a broad array of stimuli including exposure to the widely abused drug ethanol, but the behavioral relevance and the regulation of JNK signaling is unclear. Here we demonstrate that JNK signaling functions downstream of the Sterile20 kinase family gene tao/Taok3 to regulate the behavioral effects of acute ethanol exposure in both the fruit fly Drosophila and mice. In flies tao is required in neurons to promote sensitivity to the locomotor stimulant effects of acute ethanol exposure and to establish specific brain structures. Reduced expression of key JNK pathway genes substantially rescued the structural and behavioral phenotypes of tao mutants. Decreasing and increasing JNK pathway activity resulted in increased and decreased sensitivity to the locomotor stimulant properties of acute ethanol exposure, respectively. Further, JNK expression in a limited pattern of neurons that included brain regions implicated in ethanol responses was sufficient to restore normal behavior. Mice heterozygous for a disrupted allele of the homologous Taok3 gene (Taok3Gt) were resistant to the acute sedative effects of ethanol. JNK activity was constitutively increased in brains of Taok3Gt/+ mice, and acute induction of phospho-JNK in brain tissue by ethanol was occluded in Taok3Gt/+ mice. Finally, acute administration of a JNK inhibitor conferred resistance to the sedative effects of ethanol in wild-type but not Taok3Gt/+ mice. Taken together, these data support a role of a TAO/TAOK3-JNK neuronal signaling pathway in regulating sensitivity to acute ethanol exposure in flies and in mice.
PMCID: PMC3515618  PMID: 23227189
21.  Disturbed Ca2+ Homeostasis Increases Glutaminyl Cyclase Expression; Connecting Two Early Pathogenic Events in Alzheimer’s Disease In Vitro 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44674.
A major neuropathological hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the deposition of aggregated β amyloid (Aβ) peptide in the senile plaques. Aβ is a peptide of 38–43 amino acids and its accumulation and aggregation plays a key role early in the disease. A large fraction of β amyloid is N-terminally truncated rendering a glutamine that can subsequently be cyclized into pyroglutamate (pE). This makes the peptide more resistant to proteases, more prone to aggregation and increases its neurotoxicity. The enzyme glutaminyl cyclase (QC) catalyzes this conversion of glutamine to pE. In brains of AD patients, the expression of QC is increased in the earliest stages of pathology, which may be an important event in the pathogenesis. In this study we aimed to investigate the regulatory mechanism underlying the upregulation of QC expression in AD. Using differentiated SK-N-SH as a neuronal cell model, we found that neither the presence of Aβ peptides nor the unfolded protein response, two early events in AD, leads to increased QC levels. In contrast, we demonstrated increased QC mRNA levels and enzyme activity in response to another pathogenic factor in AD, perturbed intracellular Ca2+ homeostasis. The QC promoter contains a putative binding site for the Ca2+ dependent transcription factors c-fos and c-jun. C-fos and c-jun are induced by the same Ca2+-related stimuli as QC and their upregulation precedes QC expression. We show that in the human brain QC is predominantly expressed by neurons. Interestingly, the Ca2+- dependent regulation of both c-fos and QC is not observed in non-neuronal cells. Our results indicate that perturbed Ca2+ homeostasis results in upregulation of QC selectively in neuronal cells via Ca2+- dependent transcription factors. This suggests that disruption of Ca2+ homeostasis may contribute to the formation of the neurotoxic pE Aβ peptides in Alzheimer’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3436868  PMID: 22970285
22.  Transposable Elements in TDP-43-Mediated Neurodegenerative Disorders 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44099.
Elevated expression of specific transposable elements (TEs) has been observed in several neurodegenerative disorders. TEs also can be active during normal neurogenesis. By mining a series of deep sequencing datasets of protein-RNA interactions and of gene expression profiles, we uncovered extensive binding of TE transcripts to TDP-43, an RNA-binding protein central to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). Second, we find that association between TDP-43 and many of its TE targets is reduced in FTLD patients. Third, we discovered that a large fraction of the TEs to which TDP-43 binds become de-repressed in mouse TDP-43 disease models. We propose the hypothesis that TE mis-regulation contributes to TDP-43 related neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC3434193  PMID: 22957047
23.  Constitutive Cleavage of the Single-Pass Transmembrane Protein Alcadeinα Prevents Aberrant Peripheral Retention of Kinesin-1 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43058.
Various membrane proteins are shed by proteinases, constitutively and/or when stimulated by external signals. While the physiological significance of external signal-induced cleavages has been intensely investigated, relatively little is known about the function of constitutive cleavages. Alcadeinα (Alcα; also called Calsyntenin-1) is an evolutionarily conserved type I single-pass transmembrane protein that binds to kinesin-1 light chain (KLC) to activate kinesin-1's transport of Alcα-containing vesicles. We found that Alcα was constitutively and efficiently cleaved to liberate its ectodomain into the extracellular space, and that full-length Alcα protein was rarely detected on the cell surface. The secretion efficiency of the ectodomain was unaltered by a mutation that both abolished Alcα's KLC-binding activity and attenuated its peripheral transport, suggesting that Alcα's cleavage occurred, at least partly, en route to the cell surface. We further demonstrated that uncleavable mutant Alcα proteins readily accumulated on the cell surface and induced aberrant peripheral recruitment of KLC1 and kinesin heavy chain. Our observations suggest that Alcα is efficiently processed in part to minimize the inappropriate peripheral retention of kinesin-1. This role might exemplify the functional relevance of the constitutive cleavage of single-pass transmembrane proteins.
PMCID: PMC3414480  PMID: 22905201
24.  Ageing Increases Vulnerability to Aβ42 Toxicity in Drosophila 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40569.
Age is the major risk factor for many neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's Disease (AD), for reasons that are not clear. The association could indicate that the duration or degree of exposure to toxic proteins is important for pathology, or that age itself increases susceptibility to protein toxicity. Using an inducible Drosophila model of AD, we investigated these possibilities by varying the expression of an Aβ42 transgene in neurons at different adult ages and measuring the effects on Aβ42 levels and associated pathological phenotypes. Acute induction of Arctic Aβ42 in young adult flies resulted in rapid expression and clearance of mRNA and soluble Arctic Aβ42 protein, but in irreversible expression of insoluble Arctic Aβ42 peptide. Arctic Aβ42 peptide levels accumulated with longer durations of induction, and this led to a dose-dependent reduction in negative geotaxis and lifespan. For a standardised level of mRNA expression, older flies had higher levels of Arctic Aβ42 peptide and associated toxicity, and this correlated with an age-dependent reduction in proteasome activity. Equalising Aβ42 protein at different ages shortened lifespan in correlation with the duration of exposure to the peptide, suggesting that Aβ42 expression accumulates damage over time. However, the relative reduction in lifespan compared to controls was greater in flies first exposed to the peptide at older ages, suggesting that ageing itself also increases susceptibility to Aβ42 toxicity. Indeed older flies were more vulnerable to chronic Aβ42 toxicity even with a much lower lifetime exposure to the peptide. Finally, the persistence of insoluble Aβ42 in both young and old induced flies suggests that aggregated forms of the peptide cause toxicity in later life. Our results suggest that reduced protein turnover, increased duration of exposure and increased vulnerability to protein toxicity at later ages in combination could explain the late age-of-onset of neurodegenerative phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3395685  PMID: 22808195
25.  Altering APP Proteolysis: Increasing sAPPalpha Production by Targeting Dimerization of the APP Ectodomain 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e40027.
One of the events associated with Alzheimer's disease is the dysregulation of α- versus β-cleavage of the amyloid precursor protein (APP). The product of α-cleavage (sAPPα) has neuroprotective properties, while Aβ1-42 peptide, a product of β-cleavage, is neurotoxic. Dimerization of APP has been shown to influence the relative rate of α- and β- cleavage of APP. Thus finding compounds that interfere with dimerization of the APP ectodomain and increase the α-cleavage of APP could lead to the development of new therapies for Alzheimer's disease. Examining the intrinsic fluorescence of a fragment of the ectodomain of APP, which dimerizes through the E2 and Aβ-cognate domains, revealed significant changes in the fluorescence of the fragment upon binding of Aβ oligomers—which bind to dimers of the ectodomain— and Aβ fragments—which destabilize dimers of the ectodomain. This technique was extended to show that RERMS-containing peptides (APP695 328–332), disulfiram, and sulfiram also inhibit dimerization of the ectodomain fragment. This activity was confirmed with small angle x-ray scattering. Analysis of the activity of disulfiram and sulfiram in an AlphaLISA assay indicated that both compounds significantly enhance the production of sAPPα by 7W-CHO and B103 neuroblastoma cells. These observations demonstrate that there is a class of compounds that modulates the conformation of the APP ectodomain and influences the ratio of α- to β-cleavage of APP. These compounds provide a rationale for the development of a new class of therapeutics for Alzheimer's disease.
PMCID: PMC3386930  PMID: 22768208

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