Glutamine Synthetase 1 (GS1) is a key enzyme that catalyzes the ATP-dependent synthesis of l-glutamine from l-glutamate and is also member of the Glutamate Glutamine Cycle, a complex physiological process between glia and neurons that controls glutamate homeostasis and is often found compromised in neurodegenerative diseases including Huntington's disease (HD). Here we report that the expression of GS1 in neurons ameliorates the motility defects induced by the expression of the mutant Htt, using a Drosophila model for HD. This phenotype is associated with the ability of GS1 to favor the autophagy that we associate with the presence of reduced Htt toxic protein aggregates in neurons expressing mutant Htt. Expression of GS1 prevents the TOR activation and phosphorylation of S6K, a mechanism that we associate with the reduced levels of essential amino acids, particularly of arginine and asparagine important for TOR activation. This study reveals a novel function for GS1 to ameliorate neuronal survival by changing amino acids' levels that induce a "starvation-like" condition responsible to induce autophagy. The identification of novel targets that inhibit TOR in neurons is of particular interest for the beneficial role that autophagy has in preserving physiological neuronal health and in the mechanisms that eliminate the formation of toxic aggregates in proteinopathies.
Keywords: Drosophila model for neuronal degeneration; Huntington’s disease; TOR signaling; autophagy; glutamine synthetase 1; protein aggregates.