The goals of this project are to characterize a new biological mechanism that has direct application to the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton - the structure underlying neural cell behaviors including morphology, polarity, adhesion, process elongation, motility, navigation, connectivity, and plasticity. In order to change their size, shape, and connectivity, neurons require actin proteins to assemble together into long filaments. Adjusting the length and organization of these actin filaments (F-actin) specifies the direction of movement and enables cells to precisely connect and communicate with one another. A number of extracellular cues have now been identified that control actin dynamics, but we know little of how these signals present outside of cells exert their precise effects within cells. Semaphorins (Semas) are one of the largest families of these guidance cues and they regulate cellular behaviors by eliciting destabilizing effects on F-actin that include a loss of F- actin and the decreased ability to polymerize new F-actin. Importantly, recent breakthroughs have identified cell-surface receptors and intracellular proteins that are essential for Sema-mediated effects on actin but we still know little of the molecular mechanisms that directly regulate F-actin in response to Semas. To identify these molecules and mechanisms we have identified proteins that associate with the Sema receptor Plexin, including a novel family of cytosolic proteins called the MICALs. There is one MICAL gene in invertebrates and three MICAL genes in mammals and they control axon guidance, synaptogenesis, dendritic pruning, and other morphological changes mediated Semas/Plexins. Indeed, our recently published results reveal that MICAL provides a long-sought-after direct link between Semas/Plexins and the modification of the actin cytoskeleton. We find that MICAL directly disassembles F-actin and is both necessary and sufficient for regulating actin dynamics downstream of Semas/Plexins. These new results provide an underlying logic through which Sema- mediated reorganizations of the actin cytoskeleton can be precisely achieved in space and time: through direct Sema-Plexin activation of the novel actin disassembly factor MICAL. Interestingly, MICALs also contain an oxidoreductase (Redox) enzymatic moiety and our results strongly suggest that MICAL utilizes its Redox activity to alter F-actin, implicating for the first time a role for specific Redox signaling events in actin cytoskeletal regulation. Therefore, I hypothesize that MICAL enzymes are a novel family of phylogenetically conserved actin disassembly factors that utilize a previously uncharacterized reversible Redox signaling mechanism to directly regulate actin dynamics. To test this hypothesis, I propose to combine genetics, cell culture, and cell biological approaches using both invertebrate and vertebrate model systems with biochemical, structural, and high-resolution imaging assays utilizing purified MICAL and actin proteins. Understanding how this unusual family of enzymes, the MICALs (which are unlike any proteins that have ever been characterized) causes F-actin to disassemble will reveal new strategies to regulate neural cell biology and behavior.

Public Health Relevance

Our nervous system controls such remarkable abilities as learning, speaking, and walking only because our neurons communicate in highly organized networks. The goal of this proposal is to characterize the biochemical mechanisms that enable neurons to find and connect with one another during development and maintain these proper connections through-out adulthood. Understanding how these neuronal networks are assembled, integrated, and maintained will reveal fundamental mechanisms underlying thought, emotion, and behavior, identify therapeutic strategies for neurological diseases and addictive behaviors, and contribute to healthy recovery following neural trauma.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
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Synapses, Cytoskeleton and Trafficking Study Section (SYN)
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Riddle, Robert D
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University of Texas Sw Medical Center Dallas
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Alto, Laura Taylor; Terman, Jonathan R (2018) MICALs. Curr Biol 28:R538-R541
Wu, Heng; Yesilyurt, Hunkar Gizem; Yoon, Jimok et al. (2018) The MICALs are a Family of F-actin Dismantling Oxidoreductases Conserved from Drosophila to Humans. Sci Rep 8:937
Alto, Laura Taylor; Terman, Jonathan R (2017) Semaphorins and their Signaling Mechanisms. Methods Mol Biol 1493:1-25
Yoon, Jimok; Hung, Ruei-Jiun; Terman, Jonathan R (2017) Characterizing F-actin Disassembly Induced by the Semaphorin-Signaling Component MICAL. Methods Mol Biol 1493:119-128
Grintsevich, Elena E; Yesilyurt, Hunkar Gizem; Rich, Shannon K et al. (2016) F-actin dismantling through a redox-driven synergy between Mical and cofilin. Nat Cell Biol 18:876-85
Wu, Heng; Hung, Ruei-Jiun; Terman, Jonathan R (2016) A simple and efficient method for generating high-quality recombinant Mical enzyme for in vitro assays. Protein Expr Purif 127:116-124
Wilson, Carlos; Terman, Jonathan R; González-Billault, Christian et al. (2016) Actin filaments-A target for redox regulation. Cytoskeleton (Hoboken) 73:577-595
Gupta, Nidhi; Wu, Heng; Terman, Jonathan R (2016) Data presenting a modified bacterial expression vector for expressing and purifying Nus solubility-tagged proteins. Data Brief 8:1227-31
Terman, Jonathan R; Kashina, Anna (2013) Post-translational modification and regulation of actin. Curr Opin Cell Biol 25:30-8
Hung, Ruei-Jiun; Spaeth, Christopher S; Yesilyurt, Hunkar Gizem et al. (2013) SelR reverses Mical-mediated oxidation of actin to regulate F-actin dynamics. Nat Cell Biol 15:1445-54

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