Localization of mRNAs encoding cytoskeletal or signaling proteins to neuronal processes is known to contribute to axon growth, synaptic differentiation and plasticity. In addition, a still increasing spectrum of mRNAs has been demonstrated to be localized under different conditions and developing stages thus reflecting a highly regulated mechanism and a role of mRNA localization in a broad range of cellular processes.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by deficiency of the ubiquitously expressed survival motoneuron (SMN) protein. SMN is crucial component of a complex for the assembly of spliceosomal small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) particles. Other cellular functions of SMN are less characterized so far. SMA predominantly affects lower motoneurons, but the cellular basis for this relative specificity is still unknown. In contrast to nonneuronal cells where the protein is mainly localized in perinuclear regions and the nucleus, Smn is also present in dendrites, axons and axonal growth cones of isolated motoneurons in vitro. However, this distribution has not been shown in vivo and it is not clear whether Smn and hnRNP R are also present in presynaptic axon terminals of motoneurons in postnatal mice. Smn also associates with components not included in the classical SMN complex like RNA-binding proteins FUS, TDP43, HuD and hnRNP R which are involved in RNA processing, subcellular localization and translation. We show here that Smn and hnRNP R are present in presynaptic compartments at neuromuscular endplates of embryonic and postnatal mice. Smn and hnRNP R are localized in close proximity to each other in axons and axon terminals both in vitro and in vivo. We also provide new evidence for a direct interaction of Smn and hnRNP R in vitro and in vivo, particularly in the cytosol of motoneurons. These data point to functions of SMN beyond snRNP assembly which could be crucial for recruitment and transport of RNA particles into axons and axon terminals, a mechanism which may contribute to SMA pathogenesis.
In motoneuron disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, the loss of synapses and axon branches occurs early but is compensated by sprouting of neighboring axon terminals. Defective local axonal signaling for maintenance and dynamics of the axonal microtubule and actin cytoskeleton plays a central role in this context. The molecular mechanisms that lead to defective cytoskeleton architecture in two mouse models of motoneuron disease are summarized and discussed in this manuscript. In the progressive motor neuropathy (pmn) mouse model of motoneuron disease that is caused by a mutation in the tubulin-specific chaperone E gene, death of motoneuron cell bodies appears as a consequence of axonal degeneration. Treatment with bcl-2 overexpression or with glial-derived neurotrophic factor prevents loss of motoneuron cell bodies but does not influence the course of disease. In contrast, treatment with ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) significantly delays disease onset and prolongs survival of pmn mice. This difference is due to the activation of Stat-3 via the CNTF receptor complex in axons of pmn mutant motoneurons. Most of the activated Stat-3 protein is not transported to the nucleus to activate transcription, but interacts locally in axons with stathmin, a protein that destabilizes microtubules. This interaction plays a major role in CNTF signaling for microtubule dynamics in axons. In Smn-deficient mice, a model of spinal muscular atrophy, defects in axonal translocation of ?-actin mRNA and possibly other mRNA species have been observed. Moreover, the regulation of local protein synthesis in response to signals from neurotrophic factors and extracellular matrix proteins is altered in motoneurons from this model of motoneuron disease. These findings indicate that local signals are important for maintenance and plasticity of axonal branches and neuromuscular endplates, and that disturbances in these signaling mechanisms could contribute to the pathophysiology of motoneuron diseases.
A single amino acid change, F580Y (Legs at odd angles (Loa), Dync1h1(Loa)), in the highly conserved and overlapping homodimerization, intermediate chain, and light intermediate chain binding domain of the cytoplasmic dynein heavy chain can cause severe motor and sensory neuron loss in mice. The mechanism by which the Loa mutation impairs the neuron-specific functions of dynein is not understood. To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms of neurodegeneration arising from this mutation, we applied a cohort of biochemical methods combined with in vivo assays to systemically study the effects of the mutation on the assembly of dynein and its interaction with dynactin. We found that the Loa mutation in the heavy chain leads to increased affinity of this subunit of cytoplasmic dynein to light intermediate and a population of intermediate chains and a suppressed association of dynactin to dynein. These data suggest that the Loa mutation drives the assembly of cytoplasmic dynein toward a complex with lower affinity to dynactin and thus impairing transport of cargos that tether to the complex via dynactin. In addition, we detected up-regulation of kinesin light chain 1 (KLC1) and its increased association with dynein but reduced microtubule-associated KLC1 in the Loa samples. We provide a model describing how up-regulation of KLC1 and its interaction with cytoplasmic dynein in Loa could play a regulatory role in restoring the retrograde and anterograde transport in the Loa neurons.
Spontaneous neural activity promotes axon growth in many types of developing neurons, including motoneurons. In motoneurons from a mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), defects in axonal growth and presynaptic function correlate with a reduced frequency of spontaneous Ca(2+) transients in axons which are mediated by N-type Ca(2+) channels. To characterize the mechanisms that initiate spontaneous Ca(2+) transients, we investigated the role of voltage-gated sodium channels (VGSCs). We found that low concentrations of the VGSC inhibitors tetrodotoxin (TTX) and saxitoxin (STX) reduce the rate of axon growth in cultured embryonic mouse motoneurons without affecting their survival. STX was 5- to 10-fold more potent than TTX and Ca(2+) imaging confirmed that low concentrations of STX strongly reduce the frequency of spontaneous Ca(2+) transients in somatic and axonal regions. These findings suggest that the Na(V)1.9, a VGSC that opens at low thresholds, could act upstream of spontaneous Ca(2+) transients. qPCR from cultured and laser-microdissected spinal cord motoneurons revealed abundant expression of Na(V)1.9. Na(V)1.9 protein is preferentially localized in axons and growth cones. Suppression of Na(V)1.9 expression reduced axon elongation. Motoneurons from Na(V)1.9(-/-) mice showed the reduced axon growth in combination with reduced spontaneous Ca(2+) transients in the soma and axon terminals. Thus, Na(V)1.9 function appears to be essential for activity-dependent axon growth, acting upstream of spontaneous Ca(2+) elevation through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs). Na(V)1.9 activation could therefore serve as a target for modulating axonal regeneration in motoneuron diseases such as SMA in which presynaptic activity of VGCCs is reduced.
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