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Graduate Student, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology


Exploring protein folding in vivo under stress

Proteins are the functional unit of most biological processes. A cell’s capacity to endure, combat and restore from stress determines its protein homeostasis or proteostasis. Proteostasis inside a cell is the cumulative effect of the activity of multiple chaperones, the translation rate, the degradative machinery and the chemical milieu that constitutes the immediate environment. Considering the essentiality of proteins to life as we know it, it is only natural to expect that cells have a dedicated machinery for maintenance of functional proteins and clearing misfolded or aggregated proteins in the cell. This Proteostasis Network (PN) is expected to be a robust system with efficient re-routing and backup mechanisms in case of individual component failures. Our experiments, on removal of individual components in the PN show that, rather than activating the failsafe measures, the cell chooses to respond in a short-sighted manner and deals with the scenario by increasing degradation. While this may not reduce fitness of the cell under normal circumstances, this is an energy consuming process. This is obviously a hitherto, un-noticed, cellular inefficiency that surprisingly can be fixed using clues from epistatic interactions. We show for two such chaperones, that activating pathways related to negative genetic interactors does lead to alleviation of growth defect even during stress.


Protein aggregation and neurodegeneration in prototypical neurodegenerative diseases: Examples of amyloidopathies, tauopathies and synucleinopathies

Abstract: Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases are the most prevalent neurodegenerative diseases that generate important health-related direct and indirect socio-economic costs. They are characterized by severe neuronal losses in several disease-specific brain regions associated with deposits of aggregated proteins. In Alzheimer's disease, β-amyloid peptide-containing plaques and intraneuronal neurofibrillary tangles composed of hyperphosphorylated microtubule-associated protein tau are the two main neuropathological lesions, while Parkinson's disease is defined by the presence of Lewy Bodies that are intraneuronal proteinaceous cytoplasmic inclusions. α-Synuclein has been identified as a major protein component of Lewy Bodies and heavily implicated in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease. In the past few years, evidence has emerged to explain how these aggregate-prone proteins can undergo spontaneous self-aggregation, propagate from cell to cell, and mediate neurotoxicity. Current research now indicates that oligomeric forms are probably the toxic species. This article discusses recent progress in the understanding of the pathogenesis of these diseases, with a focus on the underlying mechanisms of protein aggregation, and emphasizes the pathophysiological molecular mechanisms leading to cellular toxicity. Finally, we present the putative direct link between β-amyloid peptide and tau in causing toxicity in Alzheimer's disease as well as α-synuclein in Parkinson's disease, along with some of the most promising therapeutic strategies currently in development for those incurable neurodegenerative disorders.

Pub.: 21 Jul '15, Pinned: 16 Oct '17

Proteins that accumulate with age in human skeletal-muscle aggregates contribute to declines in muscle mass and function in Caenorhabditis elegans.

Abstract: Protein aggregation increases with age in normal tissues, and with pathology and age in Alzheimer's hippocampus and mouse cardiac muscle. We now ask whether human skeletal muscle accumulates aggregates with age. Detergent-insoluble protein aggregates were isolated from vastus lateralis biopsies from 5 young (23-27 years of age) and 5 older (64-80 years) adults. Aggregates, quantified after gel electrophoresis, contain 2.1-fold more protein (P<0.0001) when isolated from older subjects relative to young. Of 515 proteins identified by liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry, 56 (11%) were significantly more abundant in older muscle, while 21 (4%) were depleted with age (each P<0.05). Orthologs to seven of these proteins were then targeted in C. elegans by RNA interference. Six of the seven knockdown treatments decreased protein aggregation (range 6-45%, P<0.01 to <0.0001) and increased muscle mass (range 1.5- to 1.85-fold, P<0.01 to <0.0001) in aged nematodes, and rescued mobility (range 1.4 to 1.65-fold, P≤0.0005 each) in a nematode amyloidopathy model. We conclude that specific aggregate proteins, discovered as differentially abundant in aging human muscle, have orthologs that contribute functionally to aggregation and age-associated muscle loss in nematodes, and thus can be considered potential drug targets for sarcopenia in humans.

Pub.: 20 Dec '16, Pinned: 16 Oct '17

Distinct stress conditions result in aggregation of proteins with similar properties.

Abstract: Protein aggregation is the abnormal association of proteins into larger aggregate structures which tend to be insoluble. This occurs during normal physiological conditions and in response to age or stress-induced protein misfolding and denaturation. In this present study we have defined the range of proteins that aggregate in yeast cells during normal growth and after exposure to stress conditions including an oxidative stress (hydrogen peroxide), a heavy metal stress (arsenite) and an amino acid analogue (azetidine-2-carboxylic acid). Our data indicate that these three stress conditions, which work by distinct mechanisms, promote the aggregation of similar types of proteins probably by lowering the threshold of protein aggregation. The proteins that aggregate during physiological conditions and stress share several features; however, stress conditions shift the criteria for protein aggregation propensity. This suggests that the proteins in aggregates are intrinsically aggregation-prone, rather than being proteins which are affected in a stress-specific manner. We additionally identified significant overlaps between stress aggregating yeast proteins and proteins that aggregate during ageing in yeast and C. elegans. We suggest that similar mechanisms may apply in disease- and non-disease settings and that the factors and components that control protein aggregation may be evolutionary conserved.

Pub.: 19 Apr '16, Pinned: 16 Oct '17

The Hsp70/Hsp90 Chaperone Machinery in Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Abstract: The accumulation of misfolded proteins in the human brain is one of the critical features of many neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease (AD). Assembles of beta-amyloid (Aβ) peptide-either soluble (oligomers) or insoluble (plaques) and of tau protein, which form neurofibrillary tangles, are the major hallmarks of AD. Chaperones and co-chaperones regulate protein folding and client maturation, but they also target misfolded or aggregated proteins for refolding or for degradation, mostly by the proteasome. They form an important line of defense against misfolded proteins and are part of the cellular quality control system. The heat shock protein (Hsp) family, particularly Hsp70 and Hsp90, plays a major part in this process and it is well-known to regulate protein misfolding in a variety of diseases, including tau levels and toxicity in AD. However, the role of Hsp90 in regulating protein misfolding is not yet fully understood. For example, knockdown of Hsp90 and its co-chaperones in a Caenorhabditis elegans model of Aβ misfolding leads to increased toxicity. On the other hand, the use of Hsp90 inhibitors in AD mouse models reduces Aβ toxicity, and normalizes synaptic function. Stress-inducible phosphoprotein 1 (STI1), an intracellular co-chaperone, mediates the transfer of clients from Hsp70 to Hsp90. Importantly, STI1 has been shown to regulate aggregation of amyloid-like proteins in yeast. In addition to its intracellular function, STI1 can be secreted by diverse cell types, including astrocytes and microglia and function as a neurotrophic ligand by triggering signaling via the cellular prion protein (PrP(C)). Extracellular STI1 can prevent Aβ toxic signaling by (i) interfering with Aβ binding to PrP(C) and (ii) triggering pro-survival signaling cascades. Interestingly, decreased levels of STI1 in C. elegans can also increase toxicity in an amyloid model. In this review, we will discuss the role of intracellular and extracellular STI1 and the Hsp70/Hsp90 chaperone network in mechanisms underlying protein misfolding in neurodegenerative diseases, with particular focus on AD.

Pub.: 01 Jun '17, Pinned: 16 Oct '17