The clostridial neurotoxins (CNTs) comprise a family of eight related toxins: tetanus (TeNT) and seven botulinum neurotoxins (BoNT/A-G), which cause the diseases tetanus and botulism, respectively. BoNT/A and BoNT/B are also used clinically to treat a wide range of serious medical conditions, including dystonia and pain;this represents a two billion dollar per year industry. The therapeutic action of the BoNT/A and B has traditionally been thought to involve the local - at the site of injection - inhibition of neurotransmitter release from neurons (by acting as proteases that selectively cleave SNARE proteins);in the case of dystonia, this presumably results in relaxation of skeletal muscles. However, a new hypothesis posits that in addition to having local effects at the site of injection (i.e. at the neuromuscular junction), BoNT/A can also undergo retrograde transport, away from the site of uptake (nerve terminals in the periphery), transcytosis from the axonal to the somatodendritic compartment, release from the latter compartment, and re-uptake into the nerve terminals of upstream, connected neurons in the central nervous system (CNS), where it exerts some of its medicinal effects. Whether any other BoNTs have distal effects is an issue that has not been explored. The goal of this proposal is to directly determine whether any of the BoNTs (A-G) do in fact undergo retrograde transport, transcytosis, release and re-uptake into upstream, connected neurons in a catalytically active form.
In Aim 1 we will determine whether toxins that are added to the cis macrochannel of a compartmentalized microfluidic device (which contains only axons), are transported to, and act within, the trans macrochannel of the device (which contains axons, dendrites, and cell bodies). Strikingly, our preliminary data indicate that many of the BoNTs, including BoNT/A and B, do in fact undergo retrograde transport to the trans macrochannel in an active form. This work will include single particle tracking of toxins conjugated to quantum dots (Qdots) to directly visualize, and quantitatively analyze, transport.
In Aim 2 we will address the question of whether the toxins undergo transcytosis, release, and re-uptake to act on neurons upstream of the 'primary'neurons that mediated the initial entry step. Release and re-uptake of the toxins would occur via vesicular carriers, and the fusion/recycling of these carriers can be blocked, in principle, using a CNT distinct from the toxi under study. For example, preliminary data indicate that prior cleavage of the SNARE synaptobrevin, in the trans macrochannel, with TeNT, prevents BoNT/A from cleaving its SNARE substrate, SNAP-25, within the trans macrochannel (after BoNT/A was initially taken up in the cis macrochannel). These data directly demonstrate that BoNT/A acts on neurons upstream of the 'primary'neuron that mediated initial entry. By conducting these experiments with all of the CNTs, we will determine which toxins have only local actions, and which toxins have previously undetected distal actions. This work will shed new light regarding the mechanism of action of these agents.
The BoNTs are the most deadly toxins known to humankind. Paradoxically, these agents also serve as important drugs in the treatment of a broad range of serious medical conditions in human patients, but the means by which they exert their clinical effects remains unclear. The proposed studies will clarify the mechanism of action of these toxins by definitively determining whether they can move within networks of neurons to have effects distal from the initial site of injection/uptake in patients. These studies will impact the clinical use of the CNTs by determining whether or not they have distal off target effects following local administration. Thus, the proposed work uncovers novel aspects of neuronal cell biology and also has important ramifications regarding patient safety.