Alterations in the autophagosomal-lysosomal pathway are a major pathophysiological feature of CLN3 disease, which is the most common form of childhood-onset neurodegeneration. Accumulating autofluorescent lysosomal storage material in CLN3 disease, consisting of dolichols, lipids, biometals, and a protein that normally resides in the mitochondria, subunit c of the mitochondrial ATPase, provides evidence that autophagosomal-lysosomal turnover of cellular components is disrupted upon loss of CLN3 protein function. Using a murine neuronal cell model of the disease, which accurately mimics the major gene defect and the hallmark features of CLN3 disease, we conducted an unbiased search for modifiers of autophagy, extending previous work by further optimizing a GFP-LC3 based assay and performing a high-content screen on a library of ~2000 bioactive compounds. Here we corroborate our earlier screening results and identify expanded, independent sets of autophagy modifiers that increase or decrease the accumulation of autophagosomes in the CLN3 disease cells, highlighting several pathways of interest, including the regulation of calcium signaling, microtubule dynamics, and the mevalonate pathway. Follow-up analysis on fluspirilene, nicardipine, and verapamil, in particular, confirmed activity in reducing GFP-LC3 vesicle burden, while also demonstrating activity in normalizing lysosomal positioning and, for verapamil, in promoting storage material clearance in CLN3 disease neuronal cells. This study demonstrates the potential for cell-based screening studies to identify candidate molecules and pathways for further work to understand CLN3 disease pathogenesis and in drug development efforts.
Keywords: Batten disease; CLN3; autophagy; neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis.