Opponent: Professor Albert La Spada, Department of Pediatrics, UCSD, USA


Spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7) is an autosomal dominant inherited neurodegenerative disease for which there is no cure. SCA7 belongs to the group of polyglutamine disorders, which are all caused by the expansion of a polyglutamine tract in different disease proteins. Common toxic mechanisms have been proposed for polyglutamine diseases; however the exact pathological mechanism(s) are still unclear.

The aim of this thesis was to identify and characterize the molecular mechanisms by which polyglutamine expansion in the ATXN7 protein cause SCA7 and how this can be counteracted. We found that mutant ATXN7 can be degraded by Ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) and autophagy, the two main cellular degradation pathways. However aggregation stabilized the protein against degradation. Moreover, we found that mutant ATXN7 blocked the induction of autophagy by interfering with p53 and the ULK1-ATG13-FIP200 complex. Pharmacological stimulation of autophagy ameliorated aggregation, as well as toxicity.

We also found that oxidative stress plays an important role in mutant ATXN7 toxicity and that the oxidative stress is generated by activation of NADPH oxidase 1 (NOX1) complexes. Furthermore, we showed that the increased NOX1 activity, together with polyQ expanded ATXN7 mediated disruption of the transcription factor p53, results in metabolic alterations in SCA7 cells. The expression of key p53 regulated metabolic proteins like AIF, TIGAR and GLUT1 was altered in SCA7 cells and resulted in reduced mitochondrial respiration, a higher dependence on glycolysis and reduced ATP levels.

In summary, our data indicate that mutant ATXN7 mediated dysregulation of p53, resulting in autophagic and metabolic alterations, could play a key role in SCA7 and possibly other polyglutamine diseases.