Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal motoneuron disease with no current effective treatment. Accumulation of abnormal protein inclusions containing SOD1, TARDBP, FUS, among other proteins, is a pathological hallmark of ALS. Autophagy is the major degradation pathway involved in the clearance of damaged organelles and protein aggregates. Although autophagy has been shown to efficiently degrade ALS-linked mutant protein in cell culture models, several studies suggest that autophagy impairment may also contribute to disease pathogenesis. In this report, we tested the potential use of trehalose, a disaccharide that induces MTOR-independent autophagy, in the development of experimental ALS. Administration of trehalose to mutant SOD1 transgenic mice significantly prolonged life span and attenuated the progression of disease signs. These effects were associated with decreased accumulation of SOD1 aggregates and enhanced motoneuron survival. The protective effects of trehalose were associated with increased autophagy levels in motoneurons. Cell culture experiments demonstrated that trehalose led to mutant SOD1 degradation by autophagy in NSC34 motoneuron cells and also protected primary motoneurons against the toxicity of conditioned media from mutant SOD1 transgenic astrocytes. At the mechanistic level, trehalose treatment led to a significant upregulation in the expression of key autophagy-related genes at the mRNA level including Lc3, Becn1, Sqstm1 and Atg5. Consistent with these changes, trehalose administration enhanced the nuclear translocation of FOXO1, an important transcription factor involved in the activation of autophagy in neurons. This study suggests a potential use of trehalose and enhancers of MTOR-independent autophagy for the treatment of ALS.
Keywords: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; autophagy; copper-zinc superoxide dismutase 1; protein aggregation; trehalose.