First published April 19, 2018 - More info
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a degenerative motor neuron (MN) disease caused by loss of functional SMN protein due to SMN1 gene mutations, is a leading cause of infant mortality. Increasing SMN levels ameliorates the disease phenotype and is unanimously accepted as a therapeutic approach for SMA patients. The ubiquitin/proteasome system is known to regulate SMN protein levels; however whether autophagy controls SMN levels remains poorly explored. Here we show that SMN protein is degraded by autophagy. Pharmacological and genetic inhibition of autophagy increase SMN levels, while induction of autophagy decreases SMN. SMN degradation occurs via its interaction with the autophagy adapter p62/SQSTM1. We also show that SMA neurons display reduced autophagosome clearance, increased p62/ubiquitinated protein levels, and hyperactivated mTORC1 signaling. Importantly, reducing p62 levels markedly increases SMN and its binding partner gemin2, promotes MN survival and extends lifespan in fly and mouse SMA models revealing p62 as a new potential therapeutic target to treat SMA.