The Journal of biological chemistry

Increased laforin and laforin binding to glycogen underlie Lafora body formation in malin-deficient Lafora disease.

PMID 22669944


The solubility of glycogen, essential to its metabolism, is a property of its shape, a sphere generated through extensive branching during synthesis. Lafora disease (LD) is a severe teenage-onset neurodegenerative epilepsy and results from multiorgan accumulations, termed Lafora bodies (LB), of abnormally structured aggregation-prone and digestion-resistant glycogen. LD is caused by loss-of-function mutations in the EPM2A or EPM2B gene, encoding the interacting laforin phosphatase and malin E3 ubiquitin ligase enzymes, respectively. The substrate and function of malin are unknown; an early counterintuitive observation in cell culture experiments that it targets laforin to proteasomal degradation was not pursued until now. The substrate and function of laforin have recently been elucidated. Laforin dephosphorylates glycogen during synthesis, without which phosphate ions interfere with and distort glycogen construction, leading to LB. We hypothesized that laforin in excess or not removed following its action on glycogen also interferes with glycogen formation. We show in malin-deficient mice that the absence of malin results in massively increased laforin preceding the appearance of LB and that laforin gradually accumulates in glycogen, which corresponds to progressive LB generation. We show that increasing the amounts of laforin in cell culture causes LB formation and that this occurs only with glycogen binding-competent laforin. In summary, malin deficiency causes increased laforin, increased laforin binding to glycogen, and LB formation. Furthermore, increased levels of laforin, when it can bind glycogen, causes LB. We conclude that malin functions to regulate laforin and that malin deficiency at least in part causes LB and LD through increased laforin binding to glycogen.