Autophagy is the primary cellular catabolic program activated in response to nutrient starvation. Initiation of autophagy, particularly by amino acid withdrawal, requires the ULK kinases. Despite its pivotal role in autophagy initiation, little is known about the mechanisms by which ULK promotes autophagy. Here we describe a molecular mechanism linking ULK to the pro-autophagic lipid kinase VPS34. Upon amino acid starvation or mTOR inhibition the activated ULK1 phosphorylates Beclin-1 on S14, thereby, enhancing the activity of the ATG14L-containing VPS34 complexes. The Beclin-1 S14 phosphorylation by ULK is required for full autophagic induction in mammals and this requirement is conserved in C. elegans. Our study reveals a molecular link from ULK1 to activation of the autophagy specific VPS34 complex and autophagy induction.
The molecular understanding of autophagy has originated almost exclusively from yeast genetic studies. Little is known about essential autophagy components specific to higher eukaryotes. Here we perform genetic screens in C. elegans and identify four metazoan-specific autophagy genes, named epg-2, -3, -4, and -5. Genetic analysis reveals that epg-2, -3, -4, and -5 define discrete genetic steps of the autophagy pathway. epg-2 encodes a coiled-coil protein that functions in specific autophagic cargo recognition. Mammalian homologs of EPG-3/VMP1, EPG-4/EI24, and EPG-5/mEPG5 are essential for starvation-induced autophagy. VMP1 regulates autophagosome formation by controlling the duration of omegasomes. EI24 and mEPG5 are required for formation of degradative autolysosomes. This study establishes C. elegans as a multicellular genetic model to delineate the autophagy pathway and provides mechanistic insights into the metazoan-specific autophagic process.
Extracellular vesicles (EVs) have sparked tremendous interest owing to their prominent potential in diagnostics and therapeutics. Isolation of EVs from complex biological fluids with high purity is essential to the accurate analysis of EV cargo. Unfortunately, generally used isolation techniques do not offer good separation of EVs from non-EV contaminants. Hence, it is important to have a standardized method to characterise the properties of EV preparations, including size distribution, particle concentration, purity and phenotype. Employing a laboratory-built nano-flow cytometer (nFCM) that enables multiparameter analysis of single EVs as small as 40 nm, here we report a new benchmark to the quality and efficiency assessment of EVs isolated from plasma, one of the most difficult body fluids to work with. The performance of five widely used commercial isolation kits was examined and compared with the traditional differential ultracentrifugation (UC). Two to four orders of magnitude higher particle concentrations were observed for EV preparations from platelet-free plasma (PFP) by kits when compared with the EV preparation by UC, yet the purity was much lower. Meanwhile, the particle size distribution profiles of EV preparations by kits closely resembled those of PFP whereas the EV preparation by UC showed a broader size distribution at relatively large particle size. When these kits were used to isolate EVs from vesicle-depleted PFP (VD-PFP), comparable particle counts were obtained with their corresponding EV preparations from PFP, which confirmed again the isolation of a large quantity of non-vesicular contaminants. As CD9, CD63 and CD81 also exist in the plasma matrix, singleparticle phenotyping of EVs offers distinct advantage in the validation of EVs compared with ensemble-averaged approaches, such as Western blot analysis. nFCM allows us to compare different isolation techniques without prejudice.
Extracellular vesicles (EVs) have stimulated considerable scientific and clinical interest, yet protein profiling and sizing of individual EVs remains challenging due to their small particle size, low abundance of proteins, and overall heterogeneity. Building upon a laboratory-built high-sensitivity flow cytometer (HSFCM), we report here a rapid approach for quantitative multiparameter analysis of single EVs down to 40 nm with an analysis rate up to 10 000 particles per minute. Statistically robust particle size distribution was acquired in minutes with a resolution and profile well matched with those of cryo-TEM measurements. Subpopulations of EVs expressing CD9, CD63, and/or CD81 were quantified upon immunofluorescent staining. When HSFCM was used to analyze blood samples, a significantly elevated level of CD147-positive EVs was identified in colorectal cancer patients compared to healthy controls (P < 0.001). HSFCM provides a sensitive and rapid platform for surface protein profiling and sizing of individual EVs, which could greatly aid the understanding of EV-mediated intercellular communication and the development of advanced diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.
Summary Organisms respond to mitochondrial stress through the upregulation of an array of protective genes, often perpetuating an early response to metabolic dysfunction across a lifetime. We find that mitochondrial stress causes widespread changes in chromatin structure through histone H3K9 di-methylation marks traditionally associated with gene silencing. Mitochondrial stress response activation requires the di-methylation of histone H3K9 through the activity of the histone methyltransferase met-2 and the nuclear co-factor lin-65. While globally the chromatin becomes silenced by these marks, remaining portions of the chromatin open up, at which point the binding of canonical stress responsive factors such as DVE-1 occurs. Thus, a metabolic stress response is established and propagated into adulthood of animals through specific epigenetic modifications that allow for selective gene expression and lifespan extension.
SUMMARY During neurodegenerative disease, the toxic accumulation of aggregates and misfolded proteins is often accompanied with widespread changes in peripheral metabolism, even in cells in which the aggregating protein is not present. The mechanism by which the central nervous system elicits a distal reaction to proteotoxic stress remains unknown. We hypothesized that the endocrine communication of neuronal stress plays a causative role in the changes in mitochondrial homeostasis associated with proteotoxic disease states. We find that an aggregation-prone protein expressed in the neurons of C. elegans binds to mitochondria, eliciting a global induction of a mitochondrial-specific unfolded protein response (UPRmt), affecting whole-animal physiology. Importantly, dense core vesicle release and secretion of the neurotransmitter serotonin is required for the signal’s propagation. Collectively, these data suggest the commandeering of a nutrient sensing network to allow for cell-to-cell communication between mitochondria in response to protein folding stress in the nervous system.
The mitochondrial unfolded protein response (UPR) can be triggered in a cell-non-autonomous fashion across multiple tissues in response to mitochondrial dysfunction. The ability to communicate information about the presence of mitochondrial stress enables a global response that can ultimately better protect an organism from local mitochondrial challenges. We find that animals use retromer-dependent Wnt signaling to propagate mitochondrial stress signals from the nervous system to peripheral tissues. Specifically, the polyQ40-triggered activation of mitochondrial stress or reduction of cco-1 (complex IV subunit) in neurons of C. elegans results in the Wnt-dependent induction of cell-non-autonomous UPR in peripheral cells. Loss-of-function mutations of retromer complex components that are responsible for recycling the Wnt secretion-factor/MIG-14 prevent Wnt secretion and thereby suppress cell-non-autonomous UPR. Neuronal expression of the Wnt ligand/EGL-20 is sufficient to induce cell-non-autonomous UPR in a retromer complex-, Wnt signaling-, and serotonin-dependent manner, clearly implicating Wnt signaling as a strong candidate for the "mitokine" signal.
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