Protein misfolding and oxidative stress promote glial-mediated neurodegeneration in an Alexander disease model.
ABSTRACT: Although alterations in glial structure and function commonly accompany death of neurons in neurodegenerative diseases, the role glia play in modulating neuronal loss is poorly understood. We have created a model of Alexander disease in Drosophila by expressing disease-linked mutant versions of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) in fly glia. We find aggregation of mutant human GFAP into inclusions bearing the hallmarks of authentic Rosenthal fibers. We also observe significant toxicity of mutant human GFAP to glia, which is mediated by protein aggregation and oxidative stress. Both protein aggregation and oxidative stress contribute to activation of a robust autophagic response in glia. Toxicity of mutant GFAP to glial cells induces a non-cell-autonomous stress response and subsequent apoptosis in neurons, which is dependent on glial glutamate transport. Our findings thus establish a simple genetic model of Alexander disease and further identify cellular pathways critical for glial-induced neurodegeneration.
Project description:Alexander disease is a fatal neurodegenerative disease caused by dominant mutations in glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). The disease is characterized by protein inclusions called Rosenthal fibers within astrocyte cell bodies and processes, and an antioxidant response mediated by the transcription factor Nrf2. We sought to test whether further elevation of Nrf2 would be beneficial in a mouse model of Alexander disease. Forcing overexpression of Nrf2 in astrocytes of R236H GFAP mutant mice decreased GFAP protein in all brain regions examined (olfactory bulb, hippocampus, cerebral cortex, brainstem, cerebellum, and spinal cord) and decreased Rosenthal fibers in olfactory bulb, hippocampus, corpus callosum, and brainstem. Nrf2 overexpression also restored body weights of R236H mice to near wild-type levels. Nrf2 regulates several genes involved in homeostasis of the antioxidant molecule glutathione, and the neuroprotective effects of Nrf2 in other neurological disorders may reflect restoration of glutathione to normal levels. However, glutathione levels in R236H mice were not decreased. Nrf2 overexpression did not change glutathione levels or ratio of reduced to oxidized glutathione (indicative of oxidative stress) in olfactory bulb, where Nrf2 dramatically reduced GFAP. Depletion of glutathione through knock-out of the GCLM (glutamate-cysteine ligase modifier subunit) also did not affect GFAP levels or body weight of R236H mice. These data suggest that the beneficial effects of Nrf2 are not mediated through glutathione.
Project description:Here, we describe the early events in the disease pathogenesis of Alexander disease. This is a rare and usually fatal neurodegenerative disorder whose pathological hallmark is the abundance of protein aggregates in astrocytes. These aggregates, termed "Rosenthal fibers," contain the protein chaperones alpha B-crystallin and HSP27 as well as glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), an intermediate filament (IF) protein found almost exclusively in astrocytes. Heterozygous, missense GFAP mutations that usually arise spontaneously during spermatogenesis have recently been found in the majority of patients with Alexander disease. In this study, we show that one of the more frequently observed mutations, R416W, significantly perturbs in vitro filament assembly. The filamentous structures formed resemble assembly intermediates but aggregate more strongly. Consistent with the heterozygosity of the mutation, this effect is dominant over wild-type GFAP in coassembly experiments. Transient transfection studies demonstrate that R416W GFAP induces the formation of GFAP-containing cytoplasmic aggregates in a wide range of different cell types, including astrocytes. The aggregates have several important features in common with Rosenthal fibers, including the association of alpha B-crystallin and HSP27. This association occurs simultaneously with the formation of protein aggregates containing R416W GFAP and is also specific, since HSP70 does not partition with them. Monoclonal antibodies specific for R416W GFAP reveal, for the first time for any IF-based disease, the presence of the mutant protein in the characteristic histopathological feature of the disease, namely Rosenthal fibers. Collectively, these data confirm that the effects of the R416W GFAP are dominant, changing the assembly process in a way that encourages aberrant filament-filament interactions that then lead to protein aggregation and chaperone sequestration as early events in Alexander disease.
Project description:Alexander disease (AxD) is a primary disorder of astrocytes caused by dominant mutations in the gene for glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). These mutations lead to protein aggregation and formation of Rosenthal fibers, complex astrocytic inclusions that contain GFAP, vimentin, plectin, ubiquitin, Hsp27 and alphaB-crystallin. The small heat shock protein alphaB-crystallin (Cryab) regulates GFAP assembly, and elevation of Cryab is a consistent feature of AxD; however, its role in Rosenthal fibers and AxD pathology is not known. Here, we show in AxD mouse models that loss of Cryab results in increased mortality, whereas elevation of Cryab rescues animals from terminal seizures. When mice with Rosenthal fibers induced by over-expression of GFAP are crossed into a Cryab-null background, over half die at 1 month of age. Restoration of Cryab expression through the GFAP promoter reverses this outcome, showing the effect is astrocyte-specific. Conversely, in mice engineered to express both AxD-associated mutations and elevated GFAP, which despite natural induction of Cryab also die at 1 month, transgenic over-expression of Cryab results in a markedly reduced CNS stress response, restores expression of the glutamate transporter Glt1 (EAAT2) and protects these animals from death. In its most common form, AxD is a devastating neurodegenerative disease, with early onset, characterized by seizures, spasticity and developmental delays, ultimately leading to death. Cryab plays a critical role in tempering AxD pathology and should be investigated as a therapeutic target for this and other diseases with astropathology.
Project description:Here we review how GFAP mutations cause Alexander disease. The current data suggest that a combination of events cause the disease. These include: (i) the accumulation of GFAP and the formation of characteristic aggregates, called Rosenthal fibers, (ii) the sequestration of the protein chaperones alpha B-crystallin and HSP27 into Rosenthal fibers, and (iii) the activation of both Jnk and the stress response. These then set in motion events that lead to Alexander disease. We discuss parallels with other intermediate filament diseases and assess potential therapies as part of this review as well as emerging trends in disease diagnosis and other aspects concerning GFAP.
Project description:Alexander disease is a fatal neurodegenerative disease caused by mutations in the astrocyte intermediate filament glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). The disease is characterized by elevated levels of GFAP and the formation of protein aggregates, known as Rosenthal fibers, within astrocytes. Lithium has previously been shown to decrease protein aggregates by increasing the autophagy pathway for protein degradation. In addition, lithium has also been reported to decrease activation of the transcription factor STAT3, which is a regulator of GFAP transcription and astrogliogenesis. Here we tested whether lithium treatment would decrease levels of GFAP in a mouse model of Alexander disease. Mice with the Gfap-R236H point mutation were fed lithium food pellets for 4 to 8 weeks. Four weeks of treatment with LiCl at 0.5% in food pellets decreased GFAP protein and transcripts in several brain regions, although with mild side effects and some mortality. Extending the duration of treatment to 8 weeks resulted in higher mortality, and again with a decrease in GFAP in the surviving animals. Indicators of autophagy, such as LC3, were not increased, suggesting that lithium may decrease levels of GFAP through other pathways. Lithium reduced the levels of phosphorylated STAT3, suggesting this as one pathway mediating the effects on GFAP. In conclusion, lithium has the potential to decrease GFAP levels in Alexander disease, but with a narrow therapeutic window separating efficacy and toxicity.
Project description:Alexander disease (AxD) is an astrogliopathy that predominantly affects the white matter of the central nervous system (CNS), and is caused by a mutation in the gene encoding the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), an intermediate filament primarily expressed in astrocytes and ependymal cells. The main pathologic feature of AxD is the presence of Rosenthal fibers (RFs), homogeneous eosinophilic inclusions found in astrocytes. Because of difficulties in procuring patient' CNS tissues and the presence of RFs in other pathologic conditions, there is a need to develop an in vivo assay that can determine whether a mutation in the GFAP results in aggregation and is thus disease-causing.We found a GFAP mutation (c.382G > A, p.Asp128Asn) in a 68-year-old man with slowly progressive gait disturbance with tendency to fall. The patient was tentatively diagnosed with AxD based on clinical and radiological findings. To develop a vertebrate model to assess the aggregation tendency of GFAP, we expressed several previously reported mutant GFAPs and p.Asp128Asn GFAP in zebrafish embryos.The most common GFAP mutations in AxD, p.Arg79Cys, p.Arg79His, p.Arg239Cys and p.Arg239His, and p.Asp128Asn induced a significantly higher number of GFAP aggregates in zebrafish embryos than wild-type GFAP.The p.Asp128Asn GFAP mutation is likely to be a disease-causing mutation. Although it needs to be tested more extensively in larger case series, the zebrafish assay system presented here would help clinicians determine whether GFAP mutations identified in putative AxD patients are disease-causing.
Project description:Alexander disease (AxD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder caused by mutations in glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), which supports the structural integrity of astrocytes. Over 70 GFAP missense mutations cause AxD, but the mechanism linking different mutations to disease-relevant phenotypes remains unknown. We used AxD patient brain tissue and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived astrocytes to investigate the hypothesis that AxD-causing mutations perturb key post-translational modifications (PTMs) on GFAP. Our findings reveal selective phosphorylation of GFAP-Ser13 in patients who died young, independently of the mutation they carried. AxD iPSC-astrocytes accumulated pSer13-GFAP in cytoplasmic aggregates within deep nuclear invaginations, resembling the hallmark Rosenthal fibers observed in vivo. Ser13 phosphorylation facilitated GFAP aggregation and was associated with increased GFAP proteolysis by caspase-6. Furthermore, caspase-6 was selectively expressed in young AxD patients, and correlated with the presence of cleaved GFAP. We reveal a novel PTM signature linking different GFAP mutations in infantile AxD.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Alexander disease (AxD) is a rare neurodegenerative disorder that is caused by dominant mutations in the gene encoding glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), an intermediate filament that is primarily expressed by astrocytes. In AxD, mutant GFAP in combination with increased GFAP expression result in astrocyte dysfunction and the accumulation of Rosenthal fibers. A neuroinflammatory environment consisting primarily of macrophage lineage cells has been observed in AxD patients and mouse models.<h4>Methods</h4>To examine if macrophage lineage cells could serve as a therapeutic target in AxD, GFAP knock-in mutant AxD model mice were treated with a colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor (CSF1R) inhibitor, pexidartinib. The effects of pexidartinib treatment on disease phenotypes were assessed.<h4>Results</h4>In AxD model mice, pexidartinib administration depleted macrophages in the CNS and caused elevation of GFAP transcript and protein levels with minimal impacts on other phenotypes including body weight, stress response activation, chemokine/cytokine expression, and T cell infiltration.<h4>Conclusions</h4>Together, these results highlight the complicated role that macrophages can play in neurological diseases and do not support the use of pexidartinib as a therapy for AxD.
Project description:Alexander disease is a fatal neurological illness characterized by white-matter degeneration and formation of Rosenthal fibers, which contain glial fibrillary acidic protein as astrocytic inclusion. Alexander disease is mainly caused by a gene mutation encoding glial fibrillary acidic protein, although the underlying pathomechanism remains unclear. We established induced pluripotent stem cells from Alexander disease patients, and differentiated induced pluripotent stem cells into astrocytes. Alexander disease patient astrocytes exhibited Rosenthal fiber-like structures, a key Alexander disease pathology, and increased inflammatory cytokine release compared to healthy control. These results suggested that Alexander disease astrocytes contribute to leukodystrophy and a variety of symptoms as an inflammatory source in the Alexander disease patient brain. Astrocytes, differentiated from induced pluripotent stem cells of Alexander disease, could be a cellular model for future translational medicine.
Project description:Rosenthal fibers (RFs) are cytoplasmic, proteinaceous aggregates. They are the pathognomonic feature of the astrocyte pathology in Alexander Disease (AxD), a neurodegenerative disorder caused by heterozygous mutations in the GFAP gene, encoding glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). Although RFs have been known for many years their origin and significance remain elusive issues. We have used mouse models of AxD based on the overexpression of human GFAP (transgenic, TG) and a point mutation in mouse GFAP (knock-in, KI) to examine the formation of RFs and to find astrocyte changes that correlate with the appearance of RFs. We found RFs of various sizes and shapes. The smallest ones appear as granular depositions on intermediate filaments. These contain GFAP and the small heat shock protein, alphaB-crystallin. Their aggregation appears to give rise to large RFs. The appearance of new RFs and the growth of previously formed RFs occur over time. We determined that DAPI is a reliable marker of RFs and in parallel with Fluoro-Jade B (FJB) staining defined a high variability in the appearance of RFs, even in neighboring astrocytes. Although many astrocytes in AxD with increased levels of GFAP and with or without RFs change their phenotype, only some cells with large numbers of RFs show a profound reconstruction of cellular processes, with a loss of fine distal processes and the appearance of large, lobulated nuclei, likely due to arrested mitosis. We conclude that 1) RFs appear to originate as small, osmiophilic masses containing both GFAP and alphaB-crystallin deposited on bundles of intermediate filaments. 2) RFs continue to form within AxD astrocytes over time. 3) DAPI is a reliable marker for RFs and can be used with immunolabeling. 4) RFs appear to interfere with the successful completion of astrocyte mitosis and cell division.