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Cell Death & Disease


Autophagy plays a central role in degrading misfolded proteins such as mutated superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1), which forms aggregates in motor neurons and is involved in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Autophagy is activated when UNC-51-like kinase 1 (ULK1) is phosphorylated at S555 and activated by AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). Autophagy is suppressed when ULK1 is phosphorylated at S757 by the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR). Whether p70 S6 kinase 1 (S6K1), a serine/threonine kinase downstream of mTOR, can also regulate autophagy remains uncertain. Here we report that inhibition of S6K1 by A77 1726, the active metabolite of an anti-inflammatory drug leflunomide, induced mTOR feedback activation and ULK1S757 phosphorylation in NSC34 cells, a hybrid mouse motoneuron cell line. Unexpectedly, A77 1726 did not suppress but rather induced autophagy by increasing AMPKT172 and ULK1S555 phosphorylation. Similar observations were made with PF-4708671, a specific S6K1 inhibitor, or with S6K1 siRNA. Further studies showed that A77 1726 induced AMPK phosphorylation by activating the TGF-β-activated kinase 1 (TAK1). Functional studies revealed that A77 1726 induced co-localization of mutant SOD1G93A protein aggregates with autophagosomes and accelerated SOD1G93A protein degradation, which was blocked by inhibition of autophagy through autophagy-related protein 7 (ATG7) siRNA. Our study suggests that S6K1 inhibition induces autophagy through TAK1-mediated AMPK activation in NSC34 cells, and that blocking S6K1 activity by a small molecule inhibitor such as leflunomide may offer a new strategy for ALS treatment.



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