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Publications

by Keyword: Neurodegeneration

Sala-Jarque, J, Zimkowska, K, Avila, J, Ferrer, I, del Rio, JA, (2022). Towards a Mechanistic Model of Tau-Mediated Pathology in Tauopathies: What Can We Learn from Cell-Based In Vitro Assays? International Journal Of Molecular Sciences 23, 11527

Tauopathies are a group of neurodegenerative diseases characterized by the hyperphosphorylation and deposition of tau proteins in the brain. In Alzheimer's disease, and other related tauopathies, the pattern of tau deposition follows a stereotypical progression between anatomically connected brain regions. Increasing evidence suggests that tau behaves in a "prion-like" manner, and that seeding and spreading of pathological tau drive progressive neurodegeneration. Although several advances have been made in recent years, the exact cellular and molecular mechanisms involved remain largely unknown. Since there are no effective therapies for any tauopathy, there is a growing need for reliable experimental models that would provide us with better knowledge and understanding of their etiology and identify novel molecular targets. In this review, we will summarize the development of cellular models for modeling tau pathology. We will discuss their different applications and contributions to our current understanding of the "prion-like" nature of pathological tau.

JTD Keywords: Culture model, Efficient generation, Extracellular tau, Familial alzheimers-disease, Microtubule-associated protein, Mouse model, Neurodegeneration, Neurofibrillary tangles, Paired helical filaments, Pathogenic tau, Pluripotent stem-cells, Seeding, Spreading, Tauopathies


Varea, Olga, Guinovart, Joan J, Duran, Jordi, (2022). Malin restoration as proof of concept for gene therapy for Lafora disease Brain Commun 4, fcac168

Abstract Lafora disease is a fatal neurodegenerative childhood dementia caused by loss-of-function mutations in either the laforin or malin gene. The hallmark of the disease is the accumulation of abnormal glycogen aggregates known as Lafora bodies (LBs) in the brain and other tissues. These aggregates are responsible for the pathological features of the disease. As a monogenic disorder, Lafora disease is a good candidate for gene therapy-based approaches. However, most patients are diagnosed after the appearance of the first symptoms and thus when LBs are already present in the brain. In this context, it was not clear whether the restoration of a normal copy of the defective gene (either laforin or malin) would prove effective. Here we evaluated the effect of restoring malin in a malin-deficient mouse model of Lafora disease as a proof of concept for gene replacement therapy. To this end, we generated a malin-deficient mouse in which malin expression can be induced at a certain time. Our results reveal that malin restoration at an advanced stage of the disease arrests the accumulation of LBs in brain and muscle, induces the degradation of laforin and glycogen synthase bound to the aggregates, and ameliorates neuroinflammation. These results identify malin restoration as the first therapeutic strategy to show effectiveness when applied at advanced stages of Lafora disease.

JTD Keywords: accumulation, gene therapy, glycogen, lafora disease, neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation, neurons, targets, Carbohydrate-binding domain, Glycogen


Pellegrini P, Hervera A, Varea O, Brewer MK, López-Soldado I, Guitart A, Aguilera M, Prats N, del Río JA, Guinovart JJ, Duran J, (2022). Lack of p62 Impairs Glycogen Aggregation and Exacerbates Pathology in a Mouse Model of Myoclonic Epilepsy of Lafora Molecular Neurobiology 59, 1214-1229

Lafora disease (LD) is a fatal childhood-onset dementia characterized by the extensive accumulation of glycogen aggregates—the so-called Lafora Bodies (LBs)—in several organs. The accumulation of LBs in the brain underlies the neurological phenotype of the disease. LBs are composed of abnormal glycogen and various associated proteins, including p62, an autophagy adaptor that participates in the aggregation and clearance of misfolded proteins. To study the role of p62 in the formation of LBs and its participation in the pathology of LD, we generated a mouse model of the disease (malinKO) lacking p62. Deletion of p62 prevented LB accumulation in skeletal muscle and cardiac tissue. In the brain, the absence of p62 altered LB morphology and increased susceptibility to epilepsy. These results demonstrate that p62 participates in the formation of LBs and suggest that the sequestration of abnormal glycogen into LBs is a protective mechanism through which it reduces the deleterious consequences of its accumulation in the brain. © 2021, The Author(s).

JTD Keywords: accumulation, astrocytes, autophagy receptors, contributes, deficient mice, epilepsy, glycogen, lafora bodies, lafora disease, malin, metabolism, neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation, p62, polyglucosan bodies, temporal-lobe epilepsy, Epilepsy, Glycogen, Inclusion-body formation, Lafora bodies, Lafora disease, Malin, Neuroinflammation, P62


Duran, J, Hervera, A, Markussen, KH, Varea, O, Lopez-Soldado, I, Sun, RC, del Rio, JA, Gentry, MS, Guinovart, JJ, (2021). Astrocytic glycogen accumulation drives the pathophysiology of neurodegeneration in Lafora disease Brain 144, 2349-2360

The hallmark of Lafora disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disorder, is the accumulation of intracellular glycogen aggregates called Lafora bodies. Until recently, it was widely believed that brain Lafora bodies were present exclusively in neurons and thus that Lafora disease pathology derived from their accumulation in this cell population. However, recent evidence indicates that Lafora bodies are also present in astrocytes. To define the role of astrocytic Lafora bodies in Lafora disease pathology, we deleted glycogen synthase specifically from astrocytes in a mouse model of the disease (malin(KO)). Strikingly, blocking glycogen synthesis in astrocytes-thus impeding Lafora bodies accumulation in this cell type-prevented the increase in neurodegeneration markers, autophagy impairment, and metabolic changes characteristic of the malin(KO) model. Conversely, mice that over-accumulate glycogen in astrocytes showed an increase in these markers. These results unveil the deleterious consequences of the deregulation of glycogen metabolism in astrocytes and change the perspective that Lafora disease is caused solely by alterations in neurons.

JTD Keywords: Bodies, Deficient mice, Epilepsy, Glycogen, Impairment, Lafora disease, Malin, Modulation, Mouse model, Neurodegeneration, Neuroinflammation, Neurons, Progressive myoclonus epilepsy, Seizure susceptibility, Synthase


Bolognesi, Benedetta, Faure, Andre J., Seuma, Mireia, Schmiedel, Jörrn M., Tartaglia, Gian Gaetano, Lehner, Ben, (2019). The mutational landscape of a prion-like domain Nature Communications 10, (1), 4162

Insoluble protein aggregates are the hallmarks of many neurodegenerative diseases. For example, aggregates of TDP-43 occur in nearly all cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). However, whether aggregates cause cellular toxicity is still not clear, even in simpler cellular systems. We reasoned that deep mutagenesis might be a powerful approach to disentangle the relationship between aggregation and toxicity. We generated >50,000 mutations in the prion-like domain (PRD) of TDP-43 and quantified their toxicity in yeast cells. Surprisingly, mutations that increase hydrophobicity and aggregation strongly decrease toxicity. In contrast, toxic variants promote the formation of dynamic liquid-like condensates. Mutations have their strongest effects in a hotspot that genetic interactions reveal to be structured in vivo, illustrating how mutagenesis can probe the in vivo structures of unstructured proteins. Our results show that aggregation of TDP-43 is not harmful but protects cells, most likely by titrating the protein away from a toxic liquid-like phase.

JTD Keywords: Computational biology and bioinformatics, Genomics, Mechanisms of disease, Neurodegeneration, Systems biology


Del Río, J. A., Ferrer, Isidre, Gavín, R., (2018). Role of cellular prion protein in interneuronal amyloid transmission Progress in Neurobiology 165-167, 87-102

Several studies have indicated that certain misfolded amyloids composed of tau, β-amyloid or α-synuclein can be transferred from cell to cell, suggesting the contribution of mechanisms reminiscent of those by which infective prions spread through the brain. This process of a ‘prion-like’ spreading between cells is also relevant as a novel putative therapeutic target that could block the spreading of proteinaceous aggregates throughout the brain which may underlie the progressive nature of neurodegenerative diseases. The relevance of β-amyloid oligomers and cellular prion protein (PrPC) binding has been a focus of interest in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). At the molecular level, β-amyloid/PrPC interaction takes place in two differently charged clusters of PrPC. In addition to β-amyloid, participation of PrPC in α-synuclein binding and brain spreading also appears to be relevant in α-synucleopathies. This review summarizes current knowledge about PrPC as a putative receptor for amyloid proteins and the physiological consequences of these interactions..

JTD Keywords: Cellular prion protein, Amyloid, Proteinaceous species, ‘prion-like’ spreading, Spreading, Neurodegeneration


Urrea, Laura, Ferrer, Isidro, Gavín, Rosalina, del Río, José Antonio, (2017). The cellular prion protein (PrPC) as neuronal receptor for α-synuclein Prion , 11, (4), 226-233

The term ‘prion-like’ is used to define some misfolded protein species that propagate intercellularly, triggering protein aggregation in recipient cells. For cell binding, both direct plasma membrane interaction and membrane receptors have been described for particular amyloids. In this respect, emerging evidence demonstrates that several β-sheet enriched proteins can bind to the cellular prion protein (PrPC). Among other interactions, the physiological relevance of the binding between β-amyloid and PrPC has been a relevant focus of numerous studies. At the molecular level, published data point to the second charged cluster domain of the PrPC molecule as the relevant binding domain of the β-amyloid/PrPC interaction. In addition to β-amyloid, participation of PrPC in binding α-synuclein, responsible for neurodegenerative synucleopathies, has been reported. Although results indicate relevant participation of PrPC in the spreading of α-synuclein in living mice, the physiological relevance of the interaction remains elusive. In this comment, we focus our attention on summarizing current knowledge of PrPC as a receptor for amyloid proteins and its physiological significance, with particular focus on α-synuclein.

JTD Keywords: α-synuclein, Charged cluster domain, Interneuronal transport, LAG3, Neurodegeneration, PrPC, Parkinson disease


del Río, J. A., Gavín, R., (2016). Functions of the cellular prion protein, the end of Moore's law, and Ockham's razor theory Prion , 10, (1), 25-40

Since its discovery the cellular prion protein (encoded by the Prnp gene) has been associated with a large number of functions. The proposed functions rank from basic cellular processes such as cell cycle and survival to neural functions such as behavior and neuroprotection, following a pattern similar to that of Moore's law for electronics. In addition, particular interest is increasing in the participation of Prnp in neurodegeneration. However, in recent years a redefinition of these functions has begun, since examples of previously attributed functions were increasingly re-associated with other proteins. Most of these functions are linked to so-called “Prnp-flanking genes” that are close to the genomic locus of Prnp and which are present in the genome of some Prnp mouse models. In addition, their role in neuroprotection against convulsive insults has been confirmed in recent studies. Lastly, in recent years a large number of models indicating the participation of different domains of the protein in apoptosis have been uncovered. However, after more than 10 years of molecular dissection our view is that the simplest mechanistic model in PrPC-mediated cell death should be considered, as Ockham's razor theory suggested.

JTD Keywords: Neurodegeneration, Prion, PrP


Ordoñez-Gutiérrez, L., Torres, J. M., Gavín, R., Antón, M., Arroba-Espinosa, A. I., Espinosa, J. C., Vergara, C., del Río, J. A., Wandosell, F., (2013). Cellular prion protein modulates β-amyloid deposition in aged APP/PS1 transgenic mice Neurobiology of Aging , 34, (12), 2793-2804

Alzheimer's disease and prion diseases are neuropathological disorders that are caused by abnormal processing and aggregation of amyloid and prion proteins. Interactions between amyloid precursor protein (APP) and PrPc proteins have been described at the neuron level. Accordingly to this putative interaction, we investigated whether β-amyloid accumulation may affect prion infectivity and, conversely, whether different amounts of PrP may affect β-amyloid accumulation. For this purpose, we used the APPswe/PS1dE9 mouse line, a common model of Alzheimer's disease, crossed with mice that either overexpress (Tga20) or that lack prion protein (knock-out) to generate mice that express varying amounts of prion protein and deposit β-amyloid. On these mouse lines, we investigated the influence of each protein on the evolution of both diseases. Our results indicated that although the presence of APP/PS1 and β-amyloid accumulation had no effect on prion infectivity, the accumulation of β-amyloid deposits was dependent on PrPc, whereby increasing levels of prion protein were accompanied by a significant increase in β-amyloid aggregation associated with aging.

JTD Keywords: Aging, Amyloid, Neurodegeneration, Prion, Signaling


Sánchez-Danés, A., Richaud-Patin, Y., Carballo-Carbajal, I., Jiménez-Delgado, S., Caig, C., Mora, S., Di Guglielmo, C., Ezquerra, M., Patel, B., Giralt, A., Canals, J. M., Memo, M., Alberch, J., López-Barneo, J., Vila, M., Cuervo, A. M., Tolosa, E., Consiglio, A., Raya, A., (2012). Disease-specific phenotypes in dopamine neurons from human iPS-based models of genetic and sporadic Parkinson's disease EMBO Molecular Medicine 4, (5), 380-395

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) offer an unprecedented opportunity to model human disease in relevant cell types, but it is unclear whether they could successfully model age-related diseases such as Parkinson's disease (PD). Here, we generated iPSC lines from seven patients with idiopathic PD (ID-PD), four patients with familial PD associated to the G2019S mutation in the Leucine-Rich Repeat Kinase 2 (LRRK2) gene (LRRK2-PD) and four age- and sex-matched healthy individuals (Ctrl). Over long-time culture, dopaminergic neurons (DAn) differentiated from either ID-PD- or LRRK2-PD-iPSC showed morphological alterations, including reduced numbers of neurites and neurite arborization, as well as accumulation of autophagic vacuoles, which were not evident in DAn differentiated from Ctrl-iPSC. Further induction of autophagy and/or inhibition of lysosomal proteolysis greatly exacerbated the DAn morphological alterations, indicating autophagic compromise in DAn from ID-PD- and LRRK2-PD-iPSC, which we demonstrate occurs at the level of autophagosome clearance. Our study provides an iPSC-based in vitro model that captures the patients' genetic complexity and allows investigation of the pathogenesis of both sporadic and familial PD cases in a disease-relevant cell type.

JTD Keywords: Autophagy, Disease modeling, LRRK2 mutation, Neurodegeneration, Pluripotent stem cells