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1.  Pathogenic role of BECN1/Beclin 1 in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 
Autophagy  2014;10(7):1256-1271.
Pharmacological activation of autophagy is becoming an attractive strategy to induce the selective degradation of aggregate-prone proteins. Recent evidence also suggests that autophagy impairment may underlie the pathogenesis of several neurodegenerative diseases. Mutations in the gene encoding SOD1 (superoxide disumutase 1) trigger familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), inducing its misfolding and aggregation and the progressive loss of motoneurons. It is still under debate whether autophagy has a protective or detrimental role in ALS. Here we evaluate the impact of BECN1/Beclin 1, an essential autophagy regulator, in ALS. BECN1 levels were upregulated in both cells and animals expressing mutant SOD1. To evaluate the impact of BECN1 to the pathogenesis of ALS in vivo, we generated mutant SOD1 transgenic mice heterozygous for Becn1. We observed an unexpected increase in life span of mutant SOD1 transgenic mice haploinsufficient for Becn1 compared with littermate control animals. These effects were accompanied by enhanced accumulation of SQSTM1/p62 and reduced levels of LC3-II, and an altered equilibrium between monomeric and oligomeric mutant SOD1 species in the spinal cord. At the molecular level, we detected an abnormal interaction of mutant SOD1 with the BECN1-BCL2L1 complex that may impact autophagy stimulation. Our data support a dual role of BECN1 in ALS and depict a complex scenario in terms of predicting the effects of manipulating autophagy in a disease context.
PMCID: PMC4203551  PMID: 24905722
ALS; autophagy; Beclin 1; neurodegenerative disease; SOD1
2.  Functional Contribution of the Transcription Factor ATF4 to the Pathogenesis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e66672.
Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress represents an early pathological event in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ATF4 is a key ER stress transcription factor that plays a role in both adaptation to stress and the activation of apoptosis. Here we investigated the contribution of ATF4 to ALS. ATF4 deficiency reduced the rate of birth of SOD1G86R transgenic mice. The fraction of ATF4−/−-SOD1G85R transgenic mice that were born are more resistant to develop ALS, leading to delayed disease onset and prolonged life span. ATF4 deficiency completely attenuated the induction of pro-apoptotic genes, including BIM and CHOP, and also led to quantitative changes in the ER protein homeostasis network. Unexpectedly, ATF4 deficiency enhanced mutant SOD1 aggregation at the end stage of the disease. Studies in the motoneuron cell line NSC34 demonstrated that knocking down ATF4 enhances mutant SOD1 aggregation possibly due to alteration in the redox status of the cell. Our results support a functional role of ATF4 in ALS, offering a novel target for disease intervention.
PMCID: PMC3715499  PMID: 23874395
3.  Autophagy impairment: a crossroad between neurodegeneration and tauopathies 
BMC Biology  2012;10:78.
Most neurodegenerative diseases involve the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the nervous system. Impairment of protein degradation pathways such as autophagy is emerging as a consistent and transversal pathological phenomenon in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and Parkinson's disease. Genetic inactivation of autophagy in mice has demonstrated a key role of the pathway in maintaining protein homeostasis in the brain, triggering massive neuronal loss and the accumulation of abnormal protein inclusions. However, the mechanism underlying neurodegeneration due to autophagy impairment remains elusive. A paper in Molecular Neurodegeneration from Abeliovich's group now suggests a role for phosphorylation of Tau and the activation of glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β) in driving neurodegeneration in autophagy-deficient neurons. We discuss the implications of this study for understanding the factors driving neurofibrillary tangle formation in Alzheimer's disease and tauopathies.
See research article
PMCID: PMC3448508  PMID: 22999309

Results 1-3 (3)