Determining function of the IKAP protein in the peripheral nervous system for targeted therapeutic intervention in familial dysautonomia
Familial Dysautonomia (FD) is a recessive genetic disorder that leads to devastation of the peripheral nervous system and is the result of incomplete neurodevelopment and progressive neurodegeneration. The disorder is also marked by a continual loss of retinal ganglion cells that leads to blindness. Even with early identification and treatment, the disorder is ultimately fatal. FD is caused by mutation in the IKBKAP gene that leads to cell-type specific loss of the IKAP protein, also known as ELP1. IKAP functions as a part of the six-unit Elongator complex. The role of Elongator is unresolved, although data has accumulated that support Elongator function in tRNA modification and efficient translation of proteins and that its absence leads to cell stress and neurological impairment. We have a mouse model of FD in which mouse Ikbkap is deleted from the peripheral nervous system, and it recapitulates the death of autonomic and TrkA+ sensory neurons observed in FD patients. As we can culture TrkA+ neurons in vitro, while also studying this neuronal population in vivo, we have a system to investigate our goals of (1) determining cellular processes that go awry in absence of Ikap and (2) targeting these cell types and events to prevent their progressive death. We have determined that mitochondrial and cytoskeletal function are disrupted in Ikbkap -/-, TrkA+ neurons and show activation of stress signaling. Interestingly, disrupted mitochondrial function is an emerging hallmark common to most neurodegenerative diseases. We have identified that the compound, BGP-15, is able to restore aspects of mitochondrial function and stress signaling in vitro and can restore neuronal survival of TrkA+ neurons lacking Ikap in vitro and in vivo. BGP-15 also improves actin cytoskeletal function and target innervation. Additionally, we have determined that introduction of the C-terminal half of human IKAP is sufficient to increase neuronal survival in vitro. This smaller protein fragment is compatible with viral delivery to retinal ganglion cells and could be utilized for gene therapy, potentially preventing this neuronal death that lead to blindness. Our goals now are to further explore stress pathways common to many neurodegenerative disorders and optimize rescue strategies in vivo.