Neuropathy target esterase (NTE) was discovered by M.K. Johnson in his quest for the entity responsible for the striking and mysterious paralysis brought about by certain organophosphorus (OP) esters. His pioneering work on OP neuropathy led to the view that the biochemical lesion consisted of NTE that had undergone OP inhibition and aging. Indeed, nonaging NTE inhibitors failed to produce disease but protected against neuropathy from subsequently administered aging inhibitors. Thus, inhibition of NTE activity was not the culprit; rather, formation of an abnormal protein was the agent of the disorder. More recently, however, Paul Glynn and colleagues showed that whereas conventional knockout of the NTE gene was embryonic lethal, conditional knockout of central nervous system NTE produced neurodegeneration, suggesting to these authors that the absence of NTE rather than its presence in some altered form caused disease. We now know that NTE is the 6th member of a 9-protein family called patatin-like phospholipase domain-containing proteins, PNPLA1-9. Mutations in the catalytic domain of NTE (PNPLA6) are associated with a slowly developing disease akin to OP neuropathy and hereditary spastic paraplegia called NTE-related motor neuron disorder (NTE-MND). Furthermore, the NTE protein from affected individuals has altered enzymological characteristics. Moreover, closely related PNPLA7 is regulated by insulin and glucose. These seemingly disparate findings are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but we need to reconcile recent genetic findings with the historical body of toxicological data indicating that inhibition and aging of NTE are both necessary in order to produce neuropathy from exposure to certain OP compounds. Solving this mystery will be satisfying in itself, but it is also an enterprise likely to pay dividends by enhancing our understanding of the physiological and pathogenic roles of the PNPLA family of proteins in neurological health and disease, including a potential role for NTE in diabetic neuropathy.
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