Intracellular inclusions of misfolded proteins are the hallmark of many neurodegenerative diseases. Dysfunction of either of the two proteolytic pathways involved in clearing abnormal or obsolete cellular proteins, the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) and the autophagic-lysosomal system (A-LS) may underlie the development of the disease. Macroautophagy (autophagy), a major degradative pathway of the lysosomal system, plays a significant role in the removal of organelles and protein aggregates that are too large, or that cannot be unfolded by chaperone proteins and that are consequently unable to be degraded by the UPS. An equilibrium exists between autophagosome formation and clearance by lysosomes, and uncompromised vesicular trafficking, heterotypic organelle fusion and lysosomal function are critical for the terminal stages of autophagosomal degradation. The A-LS has been shown to play an important role in the clearance of misfolded, aggregate-prone proteins such as ?-synuclein and huntingtin. In general, we hypothesize that the UPS is upregulated to clear misfolded tau species early during the disease, but the system becomes overwhelmed as larger aggregates of tau accumulate. We envisage that the A-LS is then upregulated in an effort to compensate for the lost UPS activity and to clear the aggregates but ultimately both systems fail resulting in accelerated pathology and decline. The relationship between the accumulation of tau, the interplay between the UPS and A-LS, and the effect of relevant pharmacologic manipulations on outcome measures of relevance to human tauopathy will be assessed in three specific aims.
Aim 1 will examine the interplay between the UPS, AL-S and tau accumulation in human tissue from patients with 4R tauopathies and will compare to two mouse models of 4R tauopathy that have been modified to express an autophagic marker. The mouse models will allow us to manipulate components of the autophagic pathways to further study the interplay with the UPS, with specific examination of what happens to specific ubiquitinated forms of proteins to confirm the significance of autophagic sufficiency in tauopathy progression in vivo.
Aim 2 will use primary neurons from the aforementioned animal models to test the impact of dysfunction in a particular pathway (abnormal transport of autophagic vacuoles leading to failure of autophagic flux) and its impact on tauopathy, and whether compounds that activate A-LS or reduce the levels of hyperphosphorylated tau ameliorate the pathological phenotype.
Aim 3 will identify if compounds identified by NCGC/NIH (National Chemical and Genetic Center) using the MLPCN (Molecular Library Probes Center Network) to reduce huntingtin aggregates and cell death are viable autophagic enhancers that can be used to treat tauopathy. Cumulatively, these studies will add insight into the relationship between clearance pathways, how and when they fail, and the impact of drugs that target autophagy as a therapeutic intervention for the tauopathies
Several neurodegenerative diseases known collectively as the tauopathies include, as part of the pathology, intracellular inclusions known as neurofibrillary tangles. Although we do not know how tangles form, or exactly what type of tau (misfolded, hyperphosphorylated, oligomeric or aggregated tau) causes the cell to become dysfunctional, but it is likely that clearing abnormal, misfolded tau proteins will attenuate disease progression and possibly cure, or stabilize the disease. Studies proposed aim to understand better how pathological tau is removed from the cell through either of the two clearance pathways - the ubiquitin-proteasome clearance pathway, or the autophagic clearance pathway. Using mouse models of tauopathy, we will examine how and when these systems fail;their relationship to each other, the consequence of abnormal cellular transport function;and whether novel drug candidates that enhance autophagic clearance are efficacious in a mouse model of tauopathy.
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