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1.  Mutant HSPB1 causes loss of translational repression by binding to PCBP1, an RNA binding protein with a possible role in neurodegenerative disease 
The small heat shock protein HSPB1 (Hsp27) is an ubiquitously expressed molecular chaperone able to regulate various cellular functions like actin dynamics, oxidative stress regulation and anti-apoptosis. So far disease causing mutations in HSPB1 have been associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as distal hereditary motor neuropathy, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Most mutations in HSPB1 target its highly conserved α-crystallin domain, while other mutations affect the C- or N-terminal regions or its promotor. Mutations inside the α-crystallin domain have been shown to enhance the chaperone activity of HSPB1 and increase the binding to client proteins. However, the HSPB1-P182L mutation, located outside and downstream of the α-crystallin domain, behaves differently. This specific HSPB1 mutation results in a severe neuropathy phenotype affecting exclusively the motor neurons of the peripheral nervous system. We identified that the HSPB1-P182L mutant protein has a specifically increased interaction with the RNA binding protein poly(C)binding protein 1 (PCBP1) and results in a reduction of its translational repressive activity. RNA immunoprecipitation followed by RNA sequencing on mouse brain lead to the identification of PCBP1 mRNA targets. These targets contain larger 3′- and 5′-UTRs than average and are enriched in an RNA motif consisting of the CTCCTCCTCCTCC consensus sequence. Interestingly, next to the clear presence of neuronal transcripts among the identified PCBP1 targets we identified known genes associated with hereditary peripheral neuropathies and hereditary spastic paraplegias. We therefore conclude that HSPB1 can mediate translational repression through interaction with an RNA binding protein further supporting its role in neurodegenerative disease.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s40478-016-0407-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC5225548  PMID: 28077174
HSPB1; RNA immunoprecipitation; PCBP1; Distal Hereditary Motor Neuropathy; Charcot-Marie-Tooth
2.  Mitochondria-associated membranes as hubs for neurodegeneration 
Acta Neuropathologica  2016;131:505-523.
There is a growing appreciation that membrane-bound organelles in eukaryotic cells communicate directly with one another through direct membrane contact sites. Mitochondria-associated membranes are specialized subdomains of the endoplasmic reticulum that function as membrane contact sites between the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria. These sites have emerged as major players in lipid metabolism and calcium signaling. More recently also autophagy and mitochondrial dynamics have been found to be regulated at ER-mitochondria contact sites. Neurons critically depend on mitochondria-associated membranes as a means to exchange metabolites and signaling molecules between these organelles. This is underscored by the fact that genes affecting mitochondrial and endoplasmic reticulum homeostasis are clearly overrepresented in several hereditary neurodegenerative disorders. Conversely, the processes affected by the contact sites between the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria are widely implicated in neurodegeneration. This review will focus on the most recent data addressing the structural composition and function of the mitochondria-associated membranes. In addition, the 3D morphology of the contact sites as observed using volume electron microscopy is discussed. Finally, it will highlight the role of several key proteins associated with these contact sites that are involved not only in dementias, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, but also in axonopathies such as hereditary spastic paraplegia and Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00401-015-1528-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4789254  PMID: 26744348
3.  CMT-associated mutations in glycyl- and tyrosyl-tRNA synthetases exhibit similar pattern of toxicity and share common genetic modifiers in Drosophila 
Neurobiology of disease  2014;68:180-189.
Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases are ubiquitously expressed proteins that charge tRNAs with their cognate amino acids. By ensuring the fidelity of protein synthesis, these enzymes are essential for viability of every cell. Yet, mutations in six tRNA synthetases specifically affect the peripheral nerves and cause Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT). The CMT-causing mutations in tyrosyl- and glycyl-tRNA synthetases (YARS and GARS, respectively) alter the activity of the proteins in a range of ways (some mutations do not impact charging function, while others abrogate it), making a loss of function in tRNA charging unlikely to be the cause of disease pathology. It is currently unknown which cellular mechanisms are triggered by the mutant enzymes and how this leads to neurodegeneration. Here, by expressing two pathogenic mutations (G240R, P234KY) in Drosophila, we generated a model for GARS-associated neuropathy. We observed compromised viability, and behavioral, electrophysiological and morphological impairment in flies expressing the cytoplasmic isoform of mutant GARS. Their features recapitulated several hallmarks of CMT pathophysiology and were similar to the phenotypes identified in our previously described Drosophila model of YARS-associated neuropathy. Furthermore, CG8316 and CG15599 – genes identified in a retinal degeneration screen to modify mutant YARS, also modified the mutant GARS phenotypes. Our study presents genetic evidence for common mutant-specific interactions between two CMT-associated aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, lending support for a shared mechanism responsible for the synthetase-induced peripheral neuropathies.
PMCID: PMC4086162  PMID: 24807208
Drosophila; aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase; Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
4.  Reduced secreted clusterin as a mechanism for Alzheimer-associated CLU mutations 
The clusterin (CLU) gene has been identified as an important risk locus for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Although the actual risk–increasing polymorphisms at this locus remain to be identified, we previously observed an increased frequency of rare non-synonymous mutations and small insertion-deletions of CLU in AD patients, which specifically clustered in the β-chain domain of CLU. Nonetheless the pathogenic nature of these variants remained unclear.
Here we report a novel non-synonymous CLU mutation (p.I360N) in a Belgian Alzheimer patient and have explored the pathogenic nature of this and 10 additional CLU mutations on protein localization and secretion in vitro using immunocytochemistry, immunodetection and ELISAs.
Three patient-specific CLU mutations in the β-chain (p.I303NfsX13, p.R338W and p.I360N) caused an alteration of the subcellular CLU localization and diminished CLU transport through the secretory pathway, indicative of possible degradation mechanisms. For these mutations, significantly reduced CLU intensity was observed in the Golgi while almost all CLU protein was exclusively present in the endoplasmic reticulum. This was further confirmed by diminished CLU secretion in HEK293T and HEK293 FLp-In cell lines.
Our data lend further support to the contribution of rare coding CLU mutations in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases. Functional analyses suggest reduced secretion of the CLU protein as the mode of action for three of the examined CLU mutations. One of those is a frameshift mutation leading to a loss of secreted protein, and the other two mutations are amino acid substitutions in the disulfide bridge region, possibly interfering with heterodimerization of the α- and β-chain of CLU.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13024-015-0024-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4502563  PMID: 26179372
Alzheimer’s disease; Clusterin; Mutations; Rare variant; β-chain; Cell secretion; Golgi
5.  HSPB1 Facilitates the Formation of Non-Centrosomal Microtubules 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e66541.
The remodeling capacity of microtubules (MT) is essential for their proper function. In mammals, MTs are predominantly formed at the centrosome, but can also originate from non-centrosomal sites, a process that is still poorly understood. We here show that the small heat shock protein HSPB1 plays a role in the control of non-centrosomal MT formation. The HSPB1 expression level regulates the balance between centrosomal and non-centrosomal MTs. The HSPB1 protein can be detected specifically at sites of de novo forming non-centrosomal MTs, while it is absent from the centrosomes. In addition, we show that HSPB1 binds preferentially to the lattice of newly formed MTs in vitro, suggesting that its function occurs by stabilizing MT seeds. Our findings open new avenues for the understanding of the role of HSPB1 in the development, maintenance and protection of cells with specialized non-centrosomal MT arrays.
PMCID: PMC3691211  PMID: 23826100
6.  Charcot–Marie–Tooth causing HSPB1 mutations increase Cdk5-mediated phosphorylation of neurofilaments 
Acta Neuropathologica  2013;126(1):93-108.
Mutations in the small heat shock protein HSPB1 (HSP27) are a cause of axonal Charcot–Marie–Tooth neuropathy (CMT2F) and distal hereditary motor neuropathy. To better understand the effect of mutations in HSPB1 on the neuronal cytoskeleton, we stably transduced neuronal cells with wild-type and mutant HSPB1 and investigated axonal transport of neurofilaments (NFs). We observed that mutant HSPB1 affected the binding of NFs to the anterograde motor protein kinesin, reducing anterograde transport of NFs. These deficits were associated with an increased phosphorylation of NFs and cyclin-dependent kinase Cdk5. As Cdk5 mediates NF phosphorylation, inhibition of Cdk5/p35 restored NF phosphorylation level, as well as NF binding to kinesin in mutant HSPB1 neuronal cells. Altogether, we demonstrate that HSPB1 mutations induce hyperphosphorylation of NFs through Cdk5 and reduce anterograde transport of NFs.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00401-013-1133-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3963106  PMID: 23728742
Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease; Peripheral neuropathy; Small heat shock protein; Neurofilaments; Cyclin-dependent kinase
7.  Acute injury in the peripheral nervous system triggers an alternative macrophage response 
The activation of the immune system in neurodegeneration has detrimental as well as beneficial effects. Which aspects of this immune response aggravate the neurodegenerative breakdown and which stimulate regeneration remains an open question. To unravel the neuroprotective aspects of the immune system we focused on a model of acute peripheral nerve injury, in which the immune system was shown to be protective.
To determine the type of immune response triggered after axotomy of the sciatic nerve, a model for Wallerian degeneration in the peripheral nervous system, we evaluated markers representing the two extremes of a type I and type II immune response (classical vs. alternative) using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR), western blot, and immunohistochemistry.
Our results showed that acute peripheral nerve injury triggers an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive response, rather than a pro-inflammatory response. This was reflected by the complete absence of classical macrophage markers (iNOS, IFNγ, and IL12p40), and the strong up-regulation of tissue repair markers (arginase-1, Ym1, and Trem2). The signal favoring the alternative macrophage environment was induced immediately after nerve damage and appeared to be established within the nerve, well before the infiltration of macrophages. In addition, negative regulators of the innate immune response, as well as the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 were induced. The strict regulation of the immune system dampens the potential tissue damaging effects of an over-activated response.
We here demonstrate that acute peripheral nerve injury triggers an inherent protective environment by inducing the M2 phenotype of macrophages and the expression of arginase-1. We believe that the M2 phenotype, associated with a sterile inflammatory response and tissue repair, might explain their neuroprotective capacity. As such, shifting the neurodegeneration-induced immune responses towards an M2/Th2 response could be an important therapeutic strategy.
PMCID: PMC3419084  PMID: 22818207
Innate immune system; Negative regulation; M2; RT-qPCR; Neuroprotection; Wallerian degeneration
8.  Neutrophil extracellular trap cell death requires both autophagy and superoxide generation 
Cell Research  2010;21(2):290-304.
Neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) are extracellular chromatin structures that can trap and degrade microbes. They arise from neutrophils that have activated a cell death program called NET cell death, or NETosis. Activation of NETosis has been shown to involve NADPH oxidase activity, disintegration of the nuclear envelope and most granule membranes, decondensation of nuclear chromatin and formation of NETs. We report that in phorbol myristate acetate (PMA)-stimulated neutrophils, intracellular chromatin decondensation and NET formation follow autophagy and superoxide production, both of which are required to mediate PMA-induced NETosis and occur independently of each other. Neutrophils from patients with chronic granulomatous disease, which lack NADPH oxidase activity, still exhibit PMA-induced autophagy. Conversely, PMA-induced NADPH oxidase activity is not affected by pharmacological inhibition of autophagy. Interestingly, inhibition of either autophagy or NADPH oxidase prevents intracellular chromatin decondensation, which is essential for NETosis and NET formation, and results in cell death characterized by hallmarks of apoptosis. These results indicate that apoptosis might function as a backup program for NETosis when autophagy or NADPH oxidase activity is prevented.
PMCID: PMC3193439  PMID: 21060338
neutrophil extracellular trap; granulocyte; chronic granulomatous disease; superoxide; autophagy; live cell imaging
9.  Disruption of the SapM locus in Mycobacterium bovis BCG improves its protective efficacy as a vaccine against M. tuberculosis 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2011;3(4):222-234.
Mycobacterium bovis bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) provides only limited protection against pulmonary tuberculosis. We tested the hypothesis that BCG might have retained immunomodulatory properties from its pathogenic parent that limit its protective immunogenicity. Mutation of the molecules involved in immunomodulation might then improve its vaccine potential. We studied the vaccine potential of BCG mutants deficient in the secreted acid phosphatase, SapM, or in the capping of the immunomodulatory ManLAM cell wall component with α-1,2-oligomannoside. Both systemic and intratracheal challenge of mice with Mycobacterium tuberculosis following vaccination showed that the SapM mutant, compared to the parental BCG vaccine, provided better protection: it led to longer-term survival. Persistence of the SapM-mutated BCG in vivo resembled that of the parental BCG indicating that this mutation will likely not compromise the safety of the BCG vaccine. The SapM mutant BCG vaccine was more effective than the parental vaccine in inducing recruitment and activation of CD11c+MHC-IIintCD40int dendritic cells (DCs) to the draining lymph nodes. Thus, SapM acts by inhibiting recruitment of DCs and their activation at the site of vaccination.
PMCID: PMC3377067  PMID: 21328541
Mycobacterium; SapM; tuberculosis; vaccine; BCG
10.  Mutant HSPB8 causes motor neuron-specific neurite degeneration 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;19(16):3254-3265.
Missense mutations (K141N and K141E) in the α-crystallin domain of the small heat shock protein HSPB8 (HSP22) cause distal hereditary motor neuropathy (distal HMN) or Charcot-Marie-Tooth neuropathy type 2L (CMT2L). The mechanism through which mutant HSPB8 leads to a specific motor neuron disease phenotype is currently unknown. To address this question, we compared the effect of mutant HSPB8 in primary neuronal and glial cell cultures. In motor neurons, expression of both HSPB8 K141N and K141E mutations clearly resulted in neurite degeneration, as manifested by a reduction in number of neurites per cell, as well as in a reduction in average length of the neurites. Furthermore, expression of the K141E (and to a lesser extent, K141N) mutation also induced spheroids in the neurites. We did not detect any signs of apoptosis in motor neurons, showing that mutant HSPB8 resulted in neurite degeneration without inducing neuronal death. While overt in motor neurons, these phenotypes were only very mildly present in sensory neurons and completely absent in cortical neurons. Also glial cells did not show an altered phenotype upon expression of mutant HSPB8. These findings show that despite the ubiquitous presence of HSPB8, only motor neurons appear to be affected by the K141N and K141E mutations which explain the predominant motor neuron phenotype in distal HMN and CMT2L.
PMCID: PMC2908473  PMID: 20538880

Results 1-10 (10)