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Hum Mol Genet. 2006 Jun 1;15(11):1826-34. Epub 2006 Apr 27.

Endoplasmic reticulum stress-induced caspase-4 activation mediates apoptosis and neurodegeneration in INCL.

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  • 1Section on Developmental Genetics, Heritable Disorders Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development/NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (INCL), a neurodegenerative storage disorder of childhood, is caused by mutations in the palmitoyl-protein thioesterase-1 (PPT1) gene. PPT1 cleaves thioester linkages in S-acylated (palmitoylated) proteins and its mutation causes abnormal intracellular accumulation of fatty-acylated proteins and peptides leading to INCL pathogenesis. Although apoptosis is the suggested cause of neurodegeneration in INCL, the molecular mechanism(s) of apoptosis remains unclear. Using the PPT1-knockout (PPT1-KO) mice that mimic INCL, we previously reported that one mechanism of apoptosis involves endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress-induced caspase-12 activation. However, the human caspase-12 gene contains several mutations, which make it functionally inactive. Thus, it has been suggested that human caspase-4 is the counterpart of murine caspase-12. Here we report that in the human INCL brain ER stress-induced activation of unfolded protein response (UPR) mediates caspase-4 and caspase-3 activation and apoptosis. Moreover, we show that the INCL brain contains high level of growth-associated protein-43 (GAP-43), which is known to undergo palmitoylation. We also demonstrate that transfection of cultured INCL cells with a green fluorescent protein-GAP-43 cDNA construct shows abnormal localization of this protein in the ER. Further, INCL cells manifest evidence of ER stress and UPR (elevated levels of Grp-78/Bip and GADD153), caspase-4 as well as caspase-3 activation and cleavage of poly(ADP)-ribose polymerase, a compelling sign of apoptosis. Most importantly, we show that inhibition of caspase-4 activity protects INCL cells from undergoing apoptosis. Our results provide insight into at least one of the molecular mechanisms of apoptosis in INCL and may allow the identification of potential targets for therapeutic intervention.

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