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PLoS Genet. 2010 Aug 26;6(8). pii: e1001075. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001075.

Inactivation of VCP/ter94 suppresses retinal pathology caused by misfolded rhodopsin in Drosophila.

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  • 1Department of Protein Science, Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen-German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany.


The most common Rhodopsin (Rh) mutation associated with autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa (ADRP) in North America is the substitution of proline 23 by histidine (Rh(P23H)). Unlike the wild-type Rh, mutant Rh(P23H) exhibits folding defects and forms intracellular aggregates. The mechanisms responsible for the recognition and clearance of misfolded Rh(P23H) and their relevance to photoreceptor neuron (PN) degeneration are poorly understood. Folding-deficient membrane proteins are subjected to Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) quality control, and we have recently shown that Rh(P23H) is a substrate of the ER-associated degradation (ERAD) effector VCP/ter94, a chaperone that extracts misfolded proteins from the ER (a process called retrotranslocation) and facilitates their proteasomal degradation. Here, we used Drosophila, in which Rh1(P37H) (the equivalent of mammalian Rh(P23H)) is expressed in PNs, and found that the endogenous Rh1 is required for Rh1(P37H) toxicity. Genetic inactivation of VCP increased the levels of misfolded Rh1(P37H) and further activated the Ire1/Xbp1 ER stress pathway in the Rh1(P37H) retina. Despite this, Rh1(P37H) flies with decreased VCP function displayed a potent suppression of retinal degeneration and blindness, indicating that VCP activity promotes neurodegeneration in the Rh1(P37H) retina. Pharmacological treatment of Rh1(P37H) flies with the VCP/ERAD inhibitor Eeyarestatin I or with the proteasome inhibitor MG132 also led to a strong suppression of retinal degeneration. Collectively, our findings raise the possibility that excessive retrotranslocation and/or degradation of visual pigment is a primary cause of PN degeneration.

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