Guanabenz promotes neuronal survival via enhancement of ATF4 and parkin expression in models of Parkinson disease

Exp Neurol. 2018 May;303:95-107. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2018.01.015. Epub 2018 Feb 9.


Reduced function of parkin appears to be a central pathogenic event in Parkinson disease (PD). Increasing parkin levels enhances survival in models of PD-related neuronal death and is a promising therapeutic objective. Previously, we demonstrated that the transcription factor ATF4 promotes survival in response to PD-mimetic stressors by maintaining parkin levels. ATF4 translation is up-regulated by phosphorylation of the translation initiation factor eIF2α. The small molecule guanabenz enhances eIF2α phosphorylation by blocking the function of GADD34, a regulatory protein that promotes eIF2α dephosphorylation. We tested the hypothesis that guanabenz, by inhibiting GADD34 and consequently increasing eIF2α phosphorylation and elevating ATF4, would improve survival in models of PD by up-regulating parkin. We found that GADD34 is strongly induced by 6-OHDA, and that GADD34 localization is dramatically altered in dopaminergic substantia nigra neurons in PD cases. We further demonstrated that guanabenz attenuates 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) induced cell death of differentiated PC12 cells and primary ventral midbrain dopaminergic neurons in culture, and of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra of mice. In culture models, guanabenz also increases eIF2α phosphorylation and ATF4 and parkin levels in response to 6-OHDA. Furthermore, if either ATF4 or parkin is silenced, then the protective effect of guanabenz is lost. We also found similar results in a distinct model of neuronal death: primary cultures of cortical neurons treated with the topoisomerase I inhibitor camptothecin, in which guanabenz limited camptothecin-induced neuronal death in an ATF4- and parkin-dependent manner. In summary, our data suggest that guanabenz and other GADD34 inhibitors could be used as therapeutic agents to boost parkin levels and thereby slow neurodegeneration in PD and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Keywords: ATF4; Guanabenz; Parkin; Parkinson's disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activating Transcription Factor 4 / metabolism*
  • Adrenergic Agents / pharmacology
  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Guanabenz / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Oxidopamine / pharmacology
  • PC12 Cells
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology*
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Protein Phosphatase 1 / genetics
  • Protein Phosphatase 1 / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects


  • ATF4 protein, human
  • Adrenergic Agents
  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Activating Transcription Factor 4
  • Oxidopamine
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases
  • parkin protein
  • PPP1R15A protein, human
  • Protein Phosphatase 1
  • Guanabenz