Wolfram syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by diabetes and neurodegeneration and considered as an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) disease. Despite the underlying importance of ER dysfunction in Wolfram syndrome and the identification of two causative genes, Wolfram syndrome 1 (WFS1) and Wolfram syndrome 2 (WFS2), a molecular mechanism linking the ER to death of neurons and β cells has not been elucidated. Here we implicate calpain 2 in the mechanism of cell death in Wolfram syndrome. Calpain 2 is negatively regulated by WFS2, and elevated activation of calpain 2 by WFS2-knockdown correlates with cell death. Calpain activation is also induced by high cytosolic calcium mediated by the loss of function of WFS1. Calpain hyperactivation is observed in the WFS1 knockout mouse as well as in neural progenitor cells derived from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells of Wolfram syndrome patients. A small-scale small-molecule screen targeting ER calcium homeostasis reveals that dantrolene can prevent cell death in neural progenitor cells derived from Wolfram syndrome iPS cells. Our results demonstrate that calpain and the pathway leading its activation provides potential therapeutic targets for Wolfram syndrome and other ER diseases.
Keywords: Wolfram syndrome; diabetes; endoplasmic reticulum; neurodegeneration; treatment.