Theses Doctoral

Autophagy-linked FYVE protein mediates the turnover of mutant huntingtin and modifies pathogenesis in mouse models of Huntington’s disease

Fox, Leora Mestel

A defining characteristic of neurodegenerative disease is the accumulation of mutant or misfolded proteins within neurons. Selective macroautophagy of aggregates, or aggrephagy, is a lysosome-mediated protein degradation pathway implicated in the turnover of disease-relevant accumulated proteins, but its specific function in vivo in the mammalian nervous system is poorly understood. The large PI3P-binding protein Alfy (Autophagy-linked FYVE protein) is an adaptor required for selective macroautophagy of aggregated proteins in cellular model systems. We sought to address Alfy-mediated aggrephagy in the mammalian brain in mouse models of Huntington’s disease (HD).
HD is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by autosomal dominant inheritance of an expanded CAG repeat within the IT15, or huntingtin (htt) gene. The mutation causes an expansion of a polyglutamine (polyQ) tract in the protein Huntingtin (Htt), which results in psychiatric, cognitive, and motor symptomology. A pathological hallmark of HD is the accumulation of intracellular deposits of mutant Htt and ubiquitin. The exact relevance of these deposits remains unclear, but their elimination, hypothesized to occur via macroautophagy, correlates with behavioral improvements in mouse models of HD. The selective mechanisms of this phenomenon are largely unexplored in vivo.
We have created two mouse models to address the role of Alfy-mediated selective macroautophagy in mammalian HD brain. First, we created tamoxifen-inducible Alfy knockout mice (Alfy iKO) and crossed them with a redesigned inducible HD mouse (HD103Q) that uses a tetracycline-regulated system to control reversible expression of mutant exon-1 Htt. Western blot, in situ, and PCR analysis confirm that Alfy can be eliminated from brain in adult Alfy iKO mice. A timecourse of Htt aggregation and clearance reveals that HD103Q mice accumulate huntingtin deposits, which clear in a linear manner upon transgene suppression over the course of four months. The loss of Alfy significantly impedes the removal of these deposits. Second, an Alfy knockout mouse was created using gene-trap technology, and mice hemizygous for Alfy knockout were crossed with BACHD mice expressing full-length human mutant Htt. We find that 50% Alfy depletion in the BACHD leads to increased insoluble Htt aggregate deposition along with accelerated decline in motor behavioral performance. Furthermore, inducible knockout of Alfy alone has a severe and age-dependent motor behavioral phenotype. This work reveals an in vivo role for Alfy in turnover of mutant Htt deposits, suggests that the accumulation of detergent-insoluble mutant Htt species contributes to behavioral pathogenesis, and supports an important function for Alfy at the intersection of HD and aging.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Yamamoto, Ai
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 3, 2016