Preclinical and randomized clinical evaluation of the p38Î± kinase inhibitor neflamapimod for basal forebrain cholinergic degeneration
The endosome-associated GTPase Rab5 is a central player in the molecular mechanisms leading to degeneration of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons (BFCN), a long-standing target for drug development. As p38Î± is a Rab5 activator, we hypothesized that inhibition of this kinase holds potential as an approach to treat diseases associated with BFCN loss. Herein, we report that neflamapimod (oral small molecule p38Î± inhibitor) reduces Rab5 activity, reverses endosomal pathology, and restores the numbers and morphology of BFCNs in a mouse model that develops BFCN degeneration. We also report on the results of an exploratory (hypothesis-generating) phase 2a randomized double-blind 16-week placebo-controlled clinical trial (Clinical trial registration: NCT04001517/EudraCT #2019-001566-15) of neflamapimod in mild-to-moderate dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), a disease in which BFCN degeneration is an important driver of disease expression. A total of 91 participants, all receiving background cholinesterase inhibitor therapy, were randomized 1:1 between neflamapimod 40â€‰mg or matching placebo capsules (taken orally twice-daily if weight <80â€‰kg or thrice-daily if weight >80â€‰kg). Neflamapimod does not show an effect in the clinical study on the primary endpoint, a cognitive-test battery. On two secondary endpoints, a measure of functional mobility and a dementia rating-scale, improvements were seen that are consistent with an effect on BFCN function. Neflamapimod treatment is well-tolerated with no study drug associated treatment discontinuations. The combined preclinical and clinical observations inform on the validity of the Rab5-based pathogenic model of cholinergic degeneration and provide a foundation for confirmatory (hypothesis-testing) clinical evaluation of neflamapimod in DLB.
Autophagy is a novel pathway for neurofilament protein degradation in vivo
How macroautophagy/autophagy influences neurofilament (NF) proteins in neurons, a frequent target in neurodegenerative diseases and injury, is not known. NFs in axons have exceptionally long half-lives in vivo enabling formation of large stable supporting networks, but they can be rapidly degraded during Wallerian degeneration initiated by a limited calpain cleavage. Here, we identify autophagy as a previously unrecognized pathway for NF subunit protein degradation that modulates constitutive and inducible NF turnover in vivo. Levels of NEFL/NF-L, NEFM/NF-M, and NEFH/NF-H subunits rise substantially in neuroblastoma (N2a) cells after blocking autophagy either with the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PtdIns3K) inhibitor 3-methyladenine (3-MA), by depleting ATG5 expression with shRNA, or by using both treatments. In contrast, activating autophagy with rapamycin significantly lowers NF levels in N2a cells. In the mouse brain, NF subunit levels increase in vivo after intracerebroventricular infusion of 3-MA. Furthermore, using tomographic confocal microscopy, immunoelectron microscopy, and biochemical fractionation, we demonstrate the presence of NF proteins intra-lumenally within autophagosomes (APs), autolysosomes (ALs), and lysosomes (LYs). Our findings establish a prominent role for autophagy in NF proteolysis. Autophagy may regulate axon cytoskeleton size and responses of the NF cytoskeleton to injury and disease.
Faulty autolysosome acidification in Alzheimer's disease mouse models induces autophagic build-up of AÎ² in neurons, yielding senile plaques
Autophagy is markedly impaired in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Here we reveal unique autophagy dysregulation within neurons in five AD mouse models in vivo and identify its basis using a neuron-specific transgenic mRFP-eGFP-LC3 probe of autophagy and pH, multiplex confocal imaging and correlative light electron microscopy. Autolysosome acidification declines in neurons well before extracellular amyloid deposition, associated with markedly lowered vATPase activity and build-up of AÎ²/APP-Î²CTF selectively within enlarged de-acidified autolysosomes. In more compromised yet still intact neurons, profuse AÎ²-positive autophagic vacuoles (AVs) pack into large membrane blebs forming flower-like perikaryal rosettes. This unique pattern, termed PANTHOS (poisonous anthos (flower)), is also present in AD brains. Additional AVs coalesce into peri-nuclear networks of membrane tubules where fibrillar Î²-amyloid accumulates intraluminally. Lysosomal membrane permeabilization, cathepsin release and lysosomal cell death ensue, accompanied by microglial invasion. Quantitative analyses confirm that individual neurons exhibiting PANTHOS are the principal source of senile plaques in amyloid precursor protein AD models.
Post-Golgi carriers, not lysosomes, confer lysosomal properties to pre-degradative organelles in normal and dystrophic axons
Lysosomal trafficking and maturation in neurons remain poorly understood and are unstudied inÂ vivo despite high disease relevance. We generated neuron-specific transgenic mice to track vesicular CTSD acquisition, acidification, and traffic within the autophagic-lysosomal pathway inÂ vivo, revealing that mature lysosomes are restricted from axons. Moreover, TGN-derived transport carriers (TCs), not lysosomes, supply lysosomal components to axonal organelles. Ultrastructurally distinctive TCs containing TGN and lysosomal markers enter axons, engaging autophagic vacuoles and late endosomes. This process is markedly upregulated in dystrophic axons of Alzheimer models. In cultured neurons, most axonal LAMP1 vesicles are weakly acidic TCs that shuttle lysosomal components bidirectionally, conferring limited degradative capability to retrograde organelles before they mature fully to lysosomes within perikarya. The minor LAMP1 subpopulation attaining robust acidification are retrograde Rab7+ endosomes/amphisomes, not lysosomes. Restricted lysosome entry into axons explains the unique lysosome distribution in neurons and their vulnerability toward neuritic dystrophy in disease.
Guidelines for the use and interpretation of assays for monitoring autophagy (4th edition)
In 2008, we published the first set of guidelines for standardizing research in autophagy. Since then, this topic has received increasing attention, and many scientists have entered the field. Our knowledge base and relevant new technologies have also been expanding. Thus, it is important to formulate on a regular basis updated guidelines for monitoring autophagy in different organisms. Despite numerous reviews, there continues to be confusion regarding acceptable methods to evaluate autophagy, especially in multicellular eukaryotes. Here, we present a set of guidelines for investigators to select and interpret methods to examine autophagy and related processes, and for reviewers to provide realistic and reasonable critiques of reports that are focused on these processes. These guidelines are not meant to be a dogmatic set of rules, because the appropriateness of any assay largely depends on the question being asked and the system being used. Moreover, no individual assay is perfect for every situation, calling for the use of multiple techniques to properly monitor autophagy in each experimental setting. Finally, several core components of the autophagy machinery have been implicated in distinct autophagic processes (canonical and noncanonical autophagy), implying that genetic approaches to block autophagy should rely on targeting two or more autophagy-related genes that ideally participate in distinct steps of the pathway. Along similar lines, because multiple proteins involved in autophagy also regulate other cellular pathways including apoptosis, not all of them can be used as a specific marker for bona fide autophagic responses. Here, we critically discuss current methods of assessing autophagy and the information they can, or cannot, provide. Our ultimate goal is to encourage intellectual and technical innovation in the field.
Transgenic expression of a ratiometric autophagy probe specifically in neurons enables the interrogation of brain autophagy in vivo
Autophagy-lysosome pathway (ALP) disruption is considered pathogenic in multiple neurodegenerative diseases; however, current methods are inadequate to investigate macroautophagy/autophagy flux in brain in vivo and its therapeutic modulation. Here, we describe a novel autophagy reporter mouse (TRGL6) stably expressing a dual-fluorescence-tagged LC3 (tfLC3, mRFP-eGFP-LC3) by transgenesis selectively in neurons. The tfLC3 probe distributes widely in the central nervous system, including spinal cord. Expression levels were similar to endogenous LC3 and induced no detectable ALP changes. This ratiometric reporter registers differential pH-dependent changes in color as autophagosomes form, fuse with lysosomes, acidify, and degrade substrates within autolysosomes. We confirmed predicted changes in neuronal autophagy flux following specific experimental ALP perturbations. Furthermore, using a third fluorescence label in TRGL6 brains to identify lysosomes by immunocytochemistry, we validated a novel procedure to detect defective autolysosomal acidification in vivo. Thus, TRGL6 mice represent a unique tool to investigate in vivo ALP dynamics in specific neuron populations in relation to neurological diseases, aging, and disease modifying agents. Abbreviations: ACTB: actin, beta; AD: Alzheimer disease; AL: autolysosomes; ALP: autophagy-lysosome pathway; AP: autophagosome; APP: amyloid beta (Abeta) precursor protein; ATG5: autophagy related 5; ATG7: autophagy related 7; AV: autophagic vacuoles; CNS: central nervous system; CTSD: cathepsin D; CQ: chloroquine; DMEM: Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium; GFP: green fluorescent protein; GABARAP: gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor associated protein; GABARAPL2/GATE16: gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor-associated protein-like 2; ICC: immunocytochemistry; ICV: intra-cerebroventricular; LAMP2: lysosomal-associated membrane protein 2; Leup: leupeptin; LY: lysosomes; MAP1LC3/LC3: microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3; MTOR: mechanistic target of rapamycin kinase; RBFOX3/NeuN: RNA binding protein, fox-1 homolog (C. elegans) 3; RFP: red fluorescent protein; RPS6KB1: ribosomal protein S6 kinase, polypeptide 1; SDS-PAGE: sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis; SQSTM1: sequestosome 1; tfLC3: mRFP-eGFP-LC3; TRGL6: Thy1 mRFP eGFP LC3-line 6; PCR: polymerase chain reaction; PD: Parkinson disease.
Cyclodextrin has conflicting actions on autophagy flux in vivo in brains of normal and Alzheimer model mice
2-hydroxypropyl-beta-cyclodextrin (CYCLO), a modifier of cholesterol efflux from cellular membrane and endo-lysosomal compartments, reduces lysosomal lipid accumulations and has therapeutic effects in animal models of Niemann-Pick disease type C and several other neurodegenerative states. Here, we investigated CYCLO effects on autophagy in wild-type mice and TgCRND8 mice - an Alzheimer's Disease (AD) model exhibiting beta-amyloidosis, neuronal autophagy deficits leading to protein and lipid accumulation within greatly enlarged autolysosomes. A 14-day intracerebroventricular administration of CYCLO to 8 month old TgCRND8 mice that exhibit moderately advanced neuropathology markedly diminished the sizes of enlarged autolysosomes and lowered their content of GM2 ganglioside and Abeta-immunoreactivity without detectably altering amyloid precursor protein processing or extracellular Abeta/beta-amyloid burden. We identified two major actions of CYCLO on autophagy underlying amelioration of lysosomal pathology. First, CYCLO stimulated lysosomal proteolytic activity by increasing cathepsin D activity, levels of cathepsins B and D and two proteins known to interact with cathepsin D, NPC1 and ABCA1. Second, CYCLO impeded autophagosome-lysosome fusion as evidenced by accumulation of LC3, SQSTM1/p62, and ubiquitinated substrates in an expanded population of autophagosomes in the absence of greater autophagy induction. By slowing substrate delivery to lysosomes, autophagosome maturational delay, as further confirmed by our in vitro studies, may relieve lysosomal stress due to accumulated substrates. These findings provide in vivo evidence for lysosomal enhancing properties of CYCLO, but caution that prolonged interference with cellular membrane fusion/autophagosome maturation could have unfavorable consequences, which might require careful optimization of dosage and dosing schedules.
Erratum to: Guidelines for the use and interpretation of assays for monitoring autophagy (3rd edition) (Autophagy, 12, 1, 1-222, 10.1080/15548627.2015.1100356
Guidelines for the use and interpretation of assays for monitoring autophagy (3rd edition) [Guideline]
Defective macroautophagic turnover of brain lipids in the TgCRND8 Alzheimer mouse model: prevention by correcting lysosomal proteolytic deficits
Autophagy, the major lysosomal pathway for the turnover of intracellular organelles is markedly impaired in neurons in Alzheimer's disease and Alzheimer mouse models. We have previously reported that severe lysosomal and amyloid neuropathology and associated cognitive deficits in the TgCRND8 Alzheimer mouse model can be ameliorated by restoring lysosomal proteolytic capacity and autophagy flux via genetic deletion of the lysosomal protease inhibitor, cystatin B. Here we present evidence that macroautophagy is a significant pathway for lipid turnover, which is defective in TgCRND8 brain where lipids accumulate as membranous structures and lipid droplets within giant neuronal autolysosomes. Levels of multiple lipid species including several sphingolipids (ceramide, ganglioside GM3, GM2, GM1, GD3 and GD1a), cardiolipin, cholesterol and cholesteryl esters are elevated in autophagic vacuole fractions and lysosomes isolated from TgCRND8 brain. Lipids are localized in autophagosomes and autolysosomes by double immunofluorescence analyses in wild-type mice and colocalization is increased in TgCRND8 mice where abnormally abundant GM2 ganglioside-positive granules are detected in neuronal lysosomes. Cystatin B deletion in TgCRND8 significantly reduces the number of GM2-positive granules and lowers the levels of GM2 and GM3 in lysosomes, decreases lipofuscin-related autofluorescence, and eliminates giant lipid-containing autolysosomes while increasing numbers of normal-sized autolysosomes/lysosomes with reduced content of undigested components. These findings have identified macroautophagy as a previously unappreciated route for delivering membrane lipids to lysosomes for turnover, a function that has so far been considered to be mediated exclusively through the endocytic pathway, and revealed that autophagic-lysosomal dysfunction in TgCRND8 brain impedes lysosomal turnover of lipids as well as proteins. The amelioration of lipid accumulation in TgCRND8 by removing cystatin B inhibition on lysosomal proteases suggests that enhancing lysosomal proteolysis improves the overall environment of the lysosome and its clearance functions, which may be possibly relevant to a broader range of lysosomal disorders beyond Alzheimer's disease.