Member Publications

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Aberrant upregulation of the glycolytic enzyme
PFKFB3 in CLN7 neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis

Lopez-Fabuel et al

CLN7 neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis is an inherited lysosomal storage neurodegenerative disease highly prevalent in children. CLN7/MFSD8 gene encodes a lysosomal membrane glycoprotein, but the biochemical processes affected by CLN7-loss of function are unexplored thus preventing development of potential treatments. Here, we found, in the Cln7∆ex2 mouse model of CLN7 disease, that failure in autophagy causes accumulation of structurally and bioenergetically impaired neuronal mitochondria. In vivo genetic approach reveals elevated mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mROS) in Cln7∆ex2 neurons that mediates glycolytic enzyme PFKFB3 activation and contributes to CLN7 pathogenesis. Mechanistically, mROS sustains a signaling cascade leading to protein stabilization of PFKFB3, normally unstable in healthy neurons. Administration of the highly selective PFKFB3 inhibitor AZ67 in Cln7∆ex2 mouse brain in vivo and in CLN7 patients-derived cells rectifies key disease hallmarks. Thus, aberrant upregulation of the glycolytic enzyme PFKFB3 in neurons may contribute to CLN7 pathogenesis and targeting PFKFB3 could alleviate this and other lysosomal storage diseases.

TRAIL Triggers CRAC-Dependent Calcium Influx and Apoptosis through the Recruitment of Autophagy Proteins to Death-Inducing Signaling Complex

Kelly Airiau, Pierre Vacher, Olivier Micheau, Valerie Prouzet-Mauleon, Guido Kroemer, Mohammad Amin Moosavi, and Mojgan Djavaheri-Mergny.

Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) selectively kills various cancer cell types, but also leads to the activation of signaling pathways that favor resistance to cell death. Here, we investigated the as yet unknown roles of calcium signaling and autophagy regulatory proteins during TRAIL-induced cell death in leukemia cells. Taking advantage of the Gene Expression Profiling Interactive Analysis (GEPIA) project, we first found that leukemia patients present a unique TRAIL receptor gene expression pattern that may reflect their resistance to TRAIL. The exposure of NB4 acute promyelocytic leukemia cells to TRAIL induces intracellular Ca2+ influx through a calcium release-activated channel (CRAC)-dependent mechanism, leading to an anti-apoptotic response. Mechanistically, we showed that upon TRAIL treatment, two autophagy proteins, ATG7 and p62/SQSTM1, are recruited to the death-inducing signaling complex (DISC) and are essential for TRAIL-induced Ca2+ influx and cell death. Importantly, the treatment of NB4 cells with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) led to the upregulation of p62/SQSTM1 and caspase-8 and, when added prior to TRAIL stimulation, significantly enhanced DISC formation and the apoptosis induced by TRAIL. In addition to uncovering new pleiotropic roles for autophagy proteins in controlling the calcium response and apoptosis triggered by TRAIL, our results point to novel therapeutic strategies for sensitizing leukemia cells to TRAIL.

Targeting CAMKK2 and SOC Channels as a Novel Therapeutic Approach for Sensitizing Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia Cells to All-Trans Retinoic Acid

Faten Merhi, Karla Alvarez-Valadez, Jenifer Trepiana, Claire Lescoat, Alexis Groppi, Jean-William Dupuy, Pierre Soubeyran, Guido Kroemer, Pierre Vacher, and Mojgan Djavaheri-Mergny

Calcium ions (Ca2+) play important and diverse roles in the regulation of autophagy, cell death and differentiation. Here, we investigated the impact of Ca2+ in regulating acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) cell fate in response to the anti-cancer agent all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA). We observed that ATRA promotes calcium entry through store-operated calcium (SOC) channels into acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) cells. This response is associated with changes in the expression profiles of ORAI1 and STIM1, two proteins involved in SOC channels activation, as well as with a significant upregulation of several key proteins associated to calcium signaling. Moreover, ATRA treatment of APL cells led to a significant activation of calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase kinase 2 (CAMKK2) and its downstream effector AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), linking Ca2+ signaling to autophagy. Pharmacological inhibition of SOC channels and CAMKK2 enhanced ATRA-induced cell differentiation and death. Altogether, our results unravel an ATRA-elicited signaling pathway that involves SOC channels/CAMKK2 activation, induction of autophagy, inhibition of cellular differentiation and suppression of cell death. We suggest that SOC channels and CAMKK2 may constitute novel drug targets for potentiating the anti-cancer effect of ATRA in APL patients.

The Autophagy, Inflammation and Metabolism Center international eSymposium - an early-career investigators' seminar series during the COVID-19 pandemic

Jose L Nieto-Torres, Joanne Durgan, Anais Franco-Romero, Paolo Grumati, Carlos M Guardia, Andrew M Leidal, Michael A Mandell, Christina G Towers, Fei Wang

The Autophagy, Inflammation and Metabolism (AIM) Center organized a globally accessible, virtual eSymposium during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The conference included presentations from scientific leaders, as well as a career discussion panel, and provided a much-needed platform for early-career investigators (ECIs) to showcase their research in autophagy. This Perspective summarizes the science presented by the ECIs during the event and discusses the lessons learned from a virtual meeting of this kind during the pandemic. The meeting was a learning experience for all involved, and the ECI participants herein offer their thoughts on the pros and cons of virtual meetings as a modality, either as standalone or hybrid events, with a view towards the post-pandemic world.

A Mammalian Target of Rapamycin Perilipin 3 (mTORC1-Plin3) Pathway
is essential to Activate Lipophagy and
Protects Against Hepatosteatosis

Marina Garcia-Macia et al

NAFLD is the most common hepatic pathology in western countries and no treatment is currently available. NAFLD is characterized by the aberrant hepatocellular accumulation of fatty acids in the form of lipid droplets (LDs). Recently, it was shown that liver LD degradation occurs through a process termed lipophagy, a form of autophagy. However, the molecular mechanisms governing liver lipophagy are elusive. Here, we aimed to ascertain the key molecular players that regulate hepatic lipophagy and their importance in NAFLD.

Melatonin Ameliorates Autophagy Impairment in a Metabolic Syndrome Model

Adrián Santos-Ledo et al

Metabolic syndrome is a global health problem in adults and its prevalence among children and adolescents is rising. It is strongly linked to a lifestyle with high-caloric food, which causes obesity and lipid metabolism anomalies. Molecular damage due to excessive oxidative stress plays a major role during the development of metabolic syndrome complications. Among the different hormones, melatonin presents strong antioxidant properties, and it is used to treat metabolic diseases. However, there is not a consensus about its use as a metabolic syndrome treatment. The aim of this study was to identify melatonin effects in a metabolic syndrome model. Golden hamsters were fed with 60% fructose-enriched food to induce metabolic syndrome and were compared to hamsters fed with regular chow diet. Both groups were also treated with melatonin. Fructose-fed hamsters showed altered blood lipid levels (increased cholesterol and LDL) and phenotypes restored with the melatonin treatment. The Harderian gland (HG), which is an ideal model to study autophagy modulation through oxidative stress, was the organ that was most affected by a fructose diet. Redox balance was altered in fructose-fed HG, inducing autophagic activation. However, since LC3-II was not increased, the impairment must be in the last steps of autophagy. Lipophagy HG markers were also disturbed, contributing to the dyslipidemia. Melatonin treatment improved possible oxidative homeostasis through autophagic induction. All these results point to melatonin as a possible treatment of the metabolic syndrome.

Autophagy-targeted therapy to modulate age-related diseases: Success, pitfalls, and new directions

Waleska Kerllen Martins et al

Autophagy is a critical metabolic process that supports homeostasis at a basal level and is dynamically regulated in response to various physiological and pathological processes. Autophagy has some etiologic implications that support certain pathological processes due to alterations in the lysosomal-degradative pathway. Some of the conditions related to autophagy play key roles in highly relevant human diseases, e.g., cardiovascular diseases(15.5%), malignant and other neoplasms (9.4%), and neurodegenerative conditions (3.7%). Despite advances in the discovery of new strategies to treat these age-related diseases, autophagy has emerged as a therapeutic option after preclinical and clinical studies. Here, we discuss the pitfalls and success in regulating autophagy initiation and its lysosome-dependent pathway to restore its homeostatic role and mediate therapeutic effects for cancer, neurodegenerative, and cardiac diseases. The main challenge for the development of autophagy regulators for clinical application is the lack of specificity of the repurposed drugs, due to the low pharmacological uniqueness of their target, including those that target the PI3K/AKT/mTOR and AMPK pathway. Then, future efforts must be conducted to deal with this scenery, including the disclosure of key components in the autophagy machinery that may intervene in its therapeutic regulation. Among all efforts, those focusing on the development of novel allosteric inhibitors against autophagy inducers, as well as those targeting autolysosomal function, and their integration into therapeutic regimens should remain a priority for the field.

Pharmacological Tools to Modulate Autophagy in Neurodegenerative Diseases

S N Suresh, Anushka Chakravorty, Mridhula Giridharan, Lakshmi Garimella, Ravi Manjithaya

Considerable evidences suggest a link between autophagy dysfunction, protein aggregation, and neurodegenerative diseases. Given that autophagy is a conserved intracellular housekeeping process, modulation of autophagy flux in various model organisms have highlighted its importance for maintaining proteostasis. In postmitotic cells such as neurons, compromised autophagy is sufficient to cause accumulation of ubiquitinated aggregates, neuronal dysfunction, degeneration, and loss of motor coordination-all hallmarks of neurodegenerative diseases. Reciprocally, enhanced autophagy flux augments cellular and organismal health, in addition to extending life span. These genetic studies not-withstanding a plethora of small molecule modulators of autophagy flux have been reported that alleviate disease symptoms in models of neurodegenerative diseases. This review summarizes the potential of such molecules to be, perhaps, one of the first autophagy drugs for treating these currently incurable diseases.

Dysfunctional Mitochondria and Mitophagy as Drivers of Alzheimer's Disease Pathogenesis

Anushka Chakravorty, Cuckoo Teresa Jetto, Ravi Manjithaya

Neurons are highly specialized post-mitotic cells that are inherently dependent on mitochondria owing to their high bioenergetic demand. Mitochondrial dysfunction is therefore associated with various age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), wherein accumulation of damaged and dysfunctional mitochondria has been reported as an early symptom further contributing to disease progression. In AD, impairment of mitochondrial function causes bioenergetic deficiency, intracellular calcium imbalance and oxidative stress, thereby aggravating the effect of Aβ and tau pathologies, leading to synaptic dysfunction, cognitive impairment and memory loss. Although there are reports suggesting intricate parallelism between mitochondrial dysfunction and AD pathologies such as Aβ aggregation and hyperphosphorylated tau accumulation, the factors that drive the pathogenesis of either are unclear. In addition, emerging evidence suggest that mitochondrial quality control (QC) mechanisms such as mitophagy are impaired in AD. As an important mitochondrial QC mechanism, mitophagy plays a critical role in maintaining neuronal health and function. Studies show that various proteins involved in mitophagy, mitochondrial dynamics, and mitochondrial biogenesis are affected in AD. Compromised mitophagy may also be attributed to impairment in autophagosome–lysosome fusion and defects in lysosomal acidification. Therapeutic interventions aiming to restore mitophagy functions can be used as a strategy for ameliorating AD pathogenesis. Recent evidence implicates the role of microglial activation via mitophagy induction in reducing amyloid plaque load. This review summarizes the current developments in the field of mitophagy and mitochondrial dysfunction in AD.

Autophagy wins the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Beth Levine

On October 3, 2016, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for “discoveries of the mechanisms for autophagy.” Just a few weeks earlier, at an acceptance speech for the 2016 Paul Janssen Award, Yoshinori Ohsumi stated that although he performs research in a simple organism—baker’s yeast—he always hoped his research would have an impact upon human health. Indeed, Ohsumi’s discoveries, along with those of others working simultaneously on autophagy-related pathways in yeast, have provided a powerful molecular tool kit that thousands of scientists are now using worldwide to decipher the roles of autophagy in mammalian health and disease. The story of this year’s Nobel Prize represents a better-than-textbook example of why unbridled discovery in fundamental basic science is crucial for opening new frontiers in medicine.