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Neurobiol Dis. 2012 Jun;46(3):655-62. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2012.03.004. Epub 2012 Mar 9.

Cathepsin proteases mediate photoreceptor cell degeneration in Drosophila.

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Department of Biology, Dartmouth College, 54 College St, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.


Endocytosis-mediated cell death is a form of degeneration displayed in several Drosophila mutants. This form of degeneration is displayed in several Drosophila mutant lines including flies lacking the eye-specific PLC (norpA). The cell death pathway is initiated by the stabilization of complexes between rhodopsin and arrestin which undergo massive endocytosis into the cell body. The internalized rhodopsin becomes insoluble and builds up in the late endosomal system, wherein it triggers cell death. Cathepsins are resident late endosome/lysosome proteases that have been shown to mediate apoptosis in many disease models. Therefore we sought to test the involvement of cathepsins in endocytosis-mediated retinal degeneration. Here we show that cathepsins mediate cell death in light-exposed norpA eyes. Moreover, we show that the cathepsin L-like cysteine protease, CP1, specifically mediates retinal degeneration, while the aspartyl protease, cathepsin D, does not. Furthermore, eye-specific expression of pan-cathepsin inhibitors also blocks cell death. Western blot analysis demonstrates that cathepsin L levels remain unchanged during retinal degeneration. However, whole mount immunohistochemistry performed on light-exposed retinas revealed a decrease in cathepsin L levels and a loss of rhodopsin/ CP1 colocalization, suggesting that cathepsin L translocates during the degeneration process. Lastly, we show that the retinal degeneration can be enhanced by the overexpression of cathepsin L in the sensitized norpA background. Together these data show that cathepsins play a crucial role in endocytosis-mediated retinal degeneration and are consistent with a model where rhodopsin internalization and accumulation in the endosomal/lysosomal system triggers cathepsin translocation to the cytosol.

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