PloS one

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-linked mutant VAPB inclusions do not interfere with protein degradation pathways or intracellular transport in a cultured cell model.

PMID 25409455


VAPB is a ubiquitously expressed, ER-resident adaptor protein involved in interorganellar lipid exchange, membrane contact site formation, and membrane trafficking. Its mutant form, P56S-VAPB, which has been linked to a dominantly inherited form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS8), generates intracellular inclusions consisting in restructured ER domains whose role in ALS pathogenesis has not been elucidated. P56S-VAPB is less stable than the wild-type protein and, at variance with most pathological aggregates, its inclusions are cleared by the proteasome. Based on studies with cultured cells overexpressing the mutant protein, it has been suggested that VAPB inclusions may exert a pathogenic effect either by sequestering the wild-type protein and other interactors (loss-of-function by a dominant negative effect) or by a more general proteotoxic action (gain-of-function). To investigate P56S-VAPB degradation and the effect of the inclusions on proteostasis and on ER-to-plasma membrane protein transport in a more physiological setting, we used stable HeLa and NSC34 Tet-Off cell lines inducibly expressing moderate levels of P56S-VAPB. Under basal conditions, P56S-VAPB degradation was mediated exclusively by the proteasome in both cell lines, however, it could be targeted also by starvation-stimulated autophagy. To assess possible proteasome impairment, the HeLa cell line was transiently transfected with the ERAD (ER Associated Degradation) substrate CD3δ, while autophagic flow was investigated in cells either starved or treated with an autophagy-stimulating drug. Secretory pathway functionality was evaluated by analyzing the transport of transfected Vesicular Stomatitis Virus Glycoprotein (VSVG). P56S-VAPB expression had no effect either on the degradation of CD3δ or on the levels of autophagic markers, or on the rate of transport of VSVG to the cell surface. We conclude that P56S-VAPB inclusions expressed at moderate levels do not interfere with protein degradation pathways or protein transport, suggesting that the dominant inheritance of the mutant gene may be due mainly to haploinsufficiency.

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