Carbonic anhydrase (CA) catalyzes the conversion of CO2 to a proton (H+) and bicarbonate (HCO3-) and is involved in many physiologic and pathophysiologic processes. Our preliminary data demonstrate that the nematode C. elegans expresses a CA that selectively localizes to the cell nucleus, is induced by hypoxia, and when lost results in neurodegeneration (ie dysfunction followed by cell death). This is the first example of a classic a-CA that is targeted to the nucleus in any organism. Our central hypothesis is that nuclear CA (NCA) activity protects neurons from hypoxic stress by buffering nuclear pH. We have developed a set of tools that will allow us to study neurodegeneration in a stain that is deficient in NCA and to assess whether its activity is significant for physiologic responses to hypoxia. We will also study signaling processes that are relevant to NCA expression. Finally, using novel genetically-encoded biosensors we will test whether nuclear CA can buffer pH in neuronal nuclei and what effect this has on nuclear redox status (or oxidative stress, which follows hypoxia). All of these approaches will utilize integrative physiologic techniques in live worms. These experiments are geared toward defining the mechanism whereby nuclear CA promotes cell function and viability. A second goal of this proposal is to test whether nuclear CA activity protects mammalian neurons during ischemia. Preliminary evidence demonstrates that transgenic expression of the nematode nuclear CA in mammalian cortical neurons is protective during oxygen-glucose deprivation and hypoxia. In addition to pursuing these studies, the cortical cell culture model will be used as a tissue source for a biochemical approach to identifying a predicted endogenous mammalian NCA. There are currently two candidate genes that are induced by hypoxia and cell stress, respectively, that will be examined using immunologic techniques and recombinant expression assays. In addition, a mouse middle cerebral artery ligation stroke model will be used to determine whether endogenous NCA activity is regulated by hypoxia in an intact brain, with a focus on our two candidate gene products. We hypothesize that worms require a dedicated nuclear CA because of their constant exposure to the environment, but that mammals express or target a CA to the nucleus only under stress conditions. The experiments proposed in this application are focused on defining a novel neuroprotective mechanism that involves pH and electrolyte homeostasis in the cell nucleus mediated by nuclear CA, and as such bridges two relatively diverse, but extremely significant, areas of biology.
We have identified an a-carbonic anhydrase in the genetic model organism C. elegans that regulates neuronal cell death decisions that occur in response to stress, and in particular hypoxia, by buffering the pH of the nucleus. Nuclear pH regulation is a novel mechanism for protecting neurons against ischemia and/or oxidative stress such as occurs in neurodegenerative disease. This application is focused on understanding the mechanism behind nuclear CAs protective effects in nematodes and translating these findings to mammals as a way of targeting cognitive impairment.
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