Proteinaceous inclusions termed Lewy bodies (LBs) is a classical hallmark of Parkinsons disease (PD). The primary component of these inclusions is alpha-synuclein (a-syn), a protein with an intrinsic propensity to misfold and aggregate. In PD patients, alpha-syn inclusions first observed in the olfactory bulb and the dorsal motor nucleus, progressively spread throughout the brain. Further findings that healthy embryonic dopamine neurons transplanted into PD patients developed LBs points suggest the tantalizing possibility of neuron-to-neuron transmission of a-syn. Subsequent work comfirmed that synthetic a-syn pre-formed fibrils (PFFs) can be taken up by neurons, eliciting the misfolding of endogenous -syn into insoluble Lewy-like inclusions. Collectively, these studies led to the prion hypothesis of PD, wherein misfolded -syn provides a template for seeding new aggregates, propogating misfolded a-syn and associated cytotoxicity. Thus, that propagation of -syn is a viable new target to be explored in the development of new PD therapies. The intercellular transmission of synuclien consists of two key steps: the secretion of synuclein from a donor neuron and its uptake by a recipient neuron. Misfolding-associated protein secretion (MAPS) is a recently discovered protein quality control process that selectively exports misfolded cytosolic proteins including a-syn. Secretion through MAPS requires the membrane localized deubiquitinase USP19, which recruits aberrant polypeptides to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) surface to facilitate their incorporation into to late endosomes that are in tight association with the ER. Misfolded proteins are secreted to the extracellular milieu when late endosomes fuse with the plasma membrane. The fate of the released misfolded proteins is current unknown. Our recent studies suggest that mammalian cells can internalize misfolded proteins via endocytosis, but it is unclear whether they possess one or more receptors for misfolded proteins. Whether internalized proteins can impose damage prior to degradation by the lysosome is also unclear. The proposal is to elucidate the physiological relevance of the MAPS pathway by characterizing the interplay between secreted misfolded proteins and target cells. Using a proximity based ligation approach, we have used purified Tau as a bait to identify candidate membrane receptors that can interact with Tau. We are now validating the identified candidates. We also set up in vitro assay using primary astrocyte cultures, which would allow us to study the cellular response to misfolded proteins in the environment. Once internalized, misfolded proteins are subject to lysosome-mediated degradation, but a small fraction can exit the lysosomes to enter cytoplasm where they can pose toxic effect on cell growth. To understand how misfolded proteins can escape lysosomal degradation, we set up a CRISPR-based genome wide screen, which identified two membrane proteins that can modulate the uptake and turnover of misfolded proteins. We are now characterizing the function of these proteins.

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U.S. National Inst Diabetes/Digst/Kidney
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