Staufen impairs autophagy in neurodegeneration

Objective

The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) kinase is one of the master coordinators of cellular stress responses, regulating metabolism, autophagy, and apoptosis. We recently reported that Staufen1 (STAU1), a stress granule (SG) protein, was overabundant in fibroblast cell lines from patients with spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 (SCA2), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, frontotemporal degeneration, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases as well as animal models, and patient tissues. STAU1 overabundance is associated with mTOR hyperactivation and links SG formation with autophagy. Our objective was to determine the mechanism of mTOR regulation by STAU1.

Methods

We determined STAU1 abundance with disease- and chemical-induced cellular stressors in patient cells and animal models. We also used RNA binding assays to contextualize STAU1 interaction with MTOR mRNA.

Results

STAU1 and mTOR were overabundant in BAC-C9ORF72, ATXN2Q127, and Thy1-TDP-43 transgenic mouse models. Reducing STAU1 levels in these mice normalized mTOR levels and activity and autophagy-related marker proteins. We also saw increased STAU1 levels in HEK293 cells transfected to express C9ORF72-relevant dipeptide repeats (DPRs). Conversely, DPR accumulations were not observed in cells treated by STAU1 RNAi. Overexpression of STAU1 in HEK293 cells increased mTOR levels through direct MTOR mRNA interaction, activating downstream targets and impairing autophagic flux. Targeting mTOR by rapamycin or RNAi normalized STAU1 abundance in a SCA2 cellular model.

Interpretation

STAU1 interaction with mTOR drives its hyperactivation and inhibits autophagic flux in multiple models of neurodegeneration. Staufen, therefore, constitutes a novel target to modulate mTOR activity, autophagy, and for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

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