Loss of Activity-Induced Mitochondrial ATP Production Underlies the Synaptic Defects in a Drosophila Model of ALS

J Neurosci. 2022 Oct 19;42(42):8019-8037. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2456-21.2022. Epub 2022 Sep 8.


Mutations in the gene encoding vesicle-associated membrane protein B (VAPB) cause a familial form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Expression of an ALS-related variant of vapb (vapbP58S ) in Drosophila motor neurons results in morphologic changes at the larval neuromuscular junction (NMJ) characterized by the appearance of fewer, but larger, presynaptic boutons. Although diminished microtubule stability is known to underlie these morphologic changes, a mechanism for the loss of presynaptic microtubules has been lacking. By studying flies of both sexes, we demonstrate the suppression of vapbP58S -induced changes in NMJ morphology by either a loss of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) Ca2+ release channels or the inhibition Ca2+/calmodulin (CaM)-activated kinase II (CaMKII). These data suggest that decreased stability of presynaptic microtubules at vapbP58S NMJs results from hyperactivation of CaMKII because of elevated cytosolic [Ca2+]. We attribute the Ca2+ dyshomeostasis to delayed extrusion of cytosolic Ca2+ Suggesting that this defect in Ca2+ extrusion arose from an insufficient response to the bioenergetic demand of neural activity, depolarization-induced mitochondrial ATP production was diminished in vapbP58S neurons. These findings point to bioenergetic dysfunction as a potential cause for the synaptic defects in vapbP58S -expressing motor neurons.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Whether the synchrony between the rates of ATP production and demand is lost in degenerating neurons remains poorly understood. We report that expression of a gene equivalent to an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)-causing variant of vesicle-associated membrane protein B (VAPB) in fly neurons decouples mitochondrial ATP production from neuronal activity. Consequently, levels of ATP in mutant neurons are unable to keep up with the bioenergetic burden of neuronal activity. Reduced rate of Ca2+ extrusion, which could result from insufficient energy to power Ca2+ ATPases, results in the accumulation of residual Ca2+ in mutant neurons and leads to alterations in synaptic vesicle (SV) release and synapse development. These findings suggest that synaptic defects in a model of ALS arise from the loss of activity-induced ATP production.

Keywords: ALS; Drosophila neurobiology; ER calcium channels; VAPB; mitochondrial ATP production; neurodegeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / metabolism
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / metabolism
  • Calmodulin / metabolism
  • Drosophila / metabolism
  • Female
  • Male
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism
  • R-SNARE Proteins / metabolism
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins / metabolism


  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2
  • Calmodulin
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins
  • R-SNARE Proteins
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • Adenosine Triphosphate