This particular protein and lipid aren't obscure characters previously unknown to science. A mutation in the gene that produces TRPML1 is known to cause Type IV mucolipidosis (ML4), a genetic disorder that affects mainly Jews of Eastern European background and results in mental retardation, poor vision and diminished motor abilities. And mutations in the enzymes needed to make PI(3,5) P2 cause a variety of neurodegenerative diseases including ALS and CMT.
The protein TRPML1 also is of interest because of the unusual way it does its work.
"While other channel proteins are in the 'passenger' seats of the membrane traffic, TRPML1 is in the 'driver' seat," said Xu, an assistant professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology. This suggests that manipulating TRPML1 channel activity using channel activators or inhibitors could affect membrane traffic.
"If you can activate the channel, it might be possible to overcome the membrane traffic defects caused by the disease-causing mutations. Luckily, small-molecule chemicals that can stimulate TRPML1 channel activity are already available, " Xu said.
He and collaborator Miriam Meisler, a human genetics professor at the U-M Medical School, have experiments underway to see if they can prevent or reverse the course of disease in a mouse model of ALS by increasing activity of the TRPML1 channel.
If the strategy is successful, Xu hopes to explore its use in treating other neurological diseases.
"If the system we're studying turns out to be compromised in more common diseases, the method of increasing channel activity could have important implications for their treatment," he said.
|Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan|
University of Michigan