Heat shock protein 90; phosphatase and tensein homolog; p2x7; superoxide dismutase; nitrated heat shock protein 90; riluzole; brain derived neurotrophic factor; glial derived neurotrophic factor; cardiotrophin 1


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is an always lethal motor neuron disease with unknown pathogenesis. Inhibitors of the molecular chaperone heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) have limited neuroprotection in some models of motor neuron degeneration. However the direct effect of Hsp90 inhibition on motor neurons is unknown. Here we show that Hsp90 inhibition induced motor neuron death through activation of the P2X7 receptor. Motor neuron death required phosphatase and tensein homolog (PTEN)-mediated inhibition of the PI3K/AKT pathway leading to Fas receptor activation and caspase dependent death. The relevance of Hsp90 for motor neuron survival was investigated in mutant Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD) transgenic animal models for ALS. Nitrated Hsp90, a posttranslational modification known to induce cell death (Franco, Ye et al. 2013), was present in motor neurons after intracellular release of zinc deficient (Zn, D83S) and the SOD in which copper binding site was genetically ablated (Q) but not after copper deficient (Cu) wild type SOD. Zn deficient and Q mutant SOD induced motor neuron death in a peroxynitrite mediated and copper dependent mechanism. Nitrated Hsp90 was not detected in the spinal cord of transgenic animals for ALS-mutant SOD animal models until disease onset. Increased nitrated Hsp90 concentrations correlated with disease progression. Addition of Zn or Q SOD to nontransgenic brain homogenate treated with peroxynitrite led to an increase level of nitrotyrosine in comparison to wild type controls. However, in the same samples there was a 2 to 10 time increase in Hsp90 nitration as compared to nitrotyrosine. The selective increase is likely due to the binding of Hsp90 to Zn deficient and Q SOD as oppose to wild type SOD. These results suggest that Hsp90 nitration facilitated by mutant SOD may cause motor neuron degeneration in ALS. Targeted inhibition of nitrated Hsp90 may be a novel therapeutic approach for ALS. An alternative therapeutic strategy is to target the production of survival factors by glial cells. Riluzole is the only FDA approved drug for the treatment of ALS and it shows a small but significant increase in patient lifespan. Our results show that acute riluzole treatment stimulated trophic factor production by astrocytes and Schwann cells. However long-term exposure reversed and even inhibited the production of trophic factors, an observation that may explain the modest increase in patient survival in clinical trials. Discontinuous riluzole treatment can maintain elevated trophic factor levels and prevent trophic factor reduction in spinal cords of nontransgenic animals. These results suggest that discontinuous riluzole administration may improve ALS patient survival. In summary, we demonstrated that Hsp90 has an essential function in the regulation of motor neuron survival. We have also shown that Hsp90 was nitrated in the presence of mutant SOD and was present during symptom onset and increases as disease progresses, which may explain the toxic gain of function of mutant SOD. Finally we demonstrate a biphasic effect of riluzole on trophic factor production and propose changes in administration to improve effects in ALS patients.


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Graduation Date





Estevez, Alvaro


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences








Release Date

August 2018

Length of Campus-only Access

3 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Medicine; Medicine -- Dissertations, Academic