Background: ALS2/alsin is a guanine nucleotide exchange factor for the small GTPase Rab5 and involved in macropinocytosis-associated endosome fusion and trafficking, and neurite outgrowth. ALS2 deficiency accounts for a number of juvenile recessive motor neuron diseases (MNDs). Recently, it has been shown that ALS2 plays a role in neuroprotection against MND-associated pathological insults, such as toxicity induced by mutant Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1). However, molecular mechanisms underlying the relationship between ALS2-associated cellular function and its neuroprotective role remain unclear.
Methodology/principal findings: To address this issue, we investigated the molecular and pathological basis for the phenotypic modification of mutant SOD1-expressing mice by ALS2 loss. Genetic ablation of Als2 in SOD1(H46R), but not SOD1(G93A), transgenic mice aggravated the mutant SOD1-associated disease symptoms such as body weight loss and motor dysfunction, leading to the earlier death. Light and electron microscopic examinations revealed the presence of degenerating and/or swollen spinal axons accumulating granular aggregates and autophagosome-like vesicles in early- and even pre-symptomatic SOD1(H46R) mice. Further, enhanced accumulation of insoluble high molecular weight SOD1, poly-ubiquitinated proteins, and macroautophagy-associated proteins such as polyubiquitin-binding protein p62/SQSTM1 and a lipidated form of light chain 3 (LC3-II), emerged in ALS2-deficient SOD1(H46R) mice. Intriguingly, ALS2 was colocalized with LC3 and p62, and partly with SOD1 on autophagosome/endosome hybrid compartments, and loss of ALS2 significantly lowered the lysosome-dependent clearance of LC3 and p62 in cultured cells.
Conclusions/significance: Based on these observations, although molecular basis for the distinctive susceptibilities to ALS2 loss in different mutant SOD1-expressing ALS models is still elusive, disturbance of the endolysosomal system by ALS2 loss may exacerbate the SOD1(H46R)-mediated neurotoxicity by accelerating the accumulation of immature vesicles and misfolded proteins in the spinal cord. We propose that ALS2 is implicated in endolysosomal trafficking through the fusion between endosomes and autophagosomes, thereby regulating endolysosomal protein degradation in vivo.