. Presenilin 1 phosphorylation regulates amyloid-β degradation by microglia. Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Aug 13; PubMed.


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  1. The authors extend their previous finding that PS1 phosphorylation regulates the autophagy-lysosomal pathway. Using knock-in mice carrying S367A mutant PS1, they found that phospho-deficient PS1 disturbed the microglial function, causing accumulation of Aβ as well as PSD95 in the microglia in 5xFAD model mice. They concluded that PS1 regulates Aβ pathology at multiple levels.

    They have investigated the microglial dysfunction in the knock-in model by several approaches. One intriguing point of this study is that the regulation of microglial function by PS1 was independent of γ-secretase activity. This study reminds us that PS1 carries out multiple functions other than the proteolysis. Further analysis of this regulatory mechanism would provide a novel understanding of PS1 biology.

    However, it remains unclear whether PS1-mediated microglial function is involved in the pathogenesis of AD, since the authors did not analyze the effect of FAD mutations on the microglia. Several reports suggest that FAD mutations in PS1 cause the partial loss of function in terms of proteolytic function. However, authors showed that γ-secretase inhibitors do not alter the microglial function in vitro. Nevertheless, it would be intriguing to see whether the phosphorylation of PS1 and/or the microglial function was altered by FAD-linked mutations of PS1.

    Moreover, some have reported that PS2, but not PS1, is a critical factor in the regulation of immune responses (Jayadev et al., 2010; Agrawal et al., 2015; Fung et al., 2020). The PS1 phosphorylation site is PS1 specific, but these data raise the possibility that PS-regulated microglial dysfunction modifies the pathophysiology of AD.


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    View all comments by Taisuke Tomita
  2. The current work is a continuation of the group’s investigations on PS1 serine 367 phosphorylation. Previously the authors showed that this phosphorylation affects, via autophagy and independently of γ-secretase, the conversion of APP β-CTF to Aβ. Here, the authors studied the role of this phosphorylation in microglia using Psen1 S367A phospho-deficient knock-in (KI) mice. They reported that the KI mice exhibit altered microglia morphology, impaired microglial response to brain injury, and increased Aβ and PSD95 in microglia. Thus, the work reveals a novel role of PS1 in microglia regulation through S367 phosphorylation, by which it mediates Aβ metabolism. Intriguingly, and in contrast to their previous report that the PS1 S367 phosphorylation does not affect γ-secretase processing of APP, here the authors show increased γ-secretase activity on Notch signaling in KI microglia. How the S367 phosphorylation mediates distinct effects on APP and Notch is difficult to comprehend and warrants further study. Further, since the S367 mutation is not found in PSEN1 FAD cohorts, the relevance of the microglial phenotypes observed in the KI mice to AD is not evident.

    View all comments by Hui Zheng
  3. Although mostly studied in neurons, Presenilin1 (encoding for PS1) is broadly expressed in the immune system, including microglia. The authors of this interesting work suggest that PS1 is an important regulator of the lysosomal machinery in microglia. The mechanism is not fully elucidated, but the authors suggest that phosphorylation of the PS1 intracellular domain may play some role in the activation of the transcription-factor TFEB, which induces the expression of lysosomal genes and lysosomal acidification. Of note, this type of signaling occurs in a γ-secretase independent manner, therefore it is uncoupled from the mechanism of APP processing.

    The authors generated a transgenic mouse strain harboring a point mutation in the PS1 phosphorylation site S367. To study the role of PS1 phosphorylation in AD-like pathology, these mice were further crossed with the 5xFAD line (a popular model of accelerated amyloid-β deposition). Double-transgenic mice developed a more severe amyloid pathology and synaptic loss compared with 5xFAD control mice expressing a wild-type form of Psen1. In summary, the authors suggest that PS1 phosphorylation in microglia promotes lysosomal degradation of the engulfed Aβ. This novel aspect of PS1 biology may be important not only in AD, but also in other protein misfolding and storage diseases in which tissue resident macrophages are involved.

    View all comments by Simone Brioschi
  4. Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (FAD) presenilin1 (PSEN1) mutations or PSEN1 deletions are well-established to cause a γ-secretase-independent failure of lysosomal acidification in neurons and to involve a premature ERAD degradation of the V0a1 vATPase subunit and impaired vATPase assembly (Lee et al., 2010; Lee et al., 2015; Wolfe et al., 2013; Lee et al., 2020; Coffey et al., 2014). This loss-of-function (LOF) effect of PSEN1 mutation on pH regulation has been shown as far back as yeast (Sharma et al., 2019) and across many cell types (Wolfe et al., 2013; Lee et al., 2020; Coffey et al., 2014). Though not surprising, it is therefore reassuring that effects on lysosomal proteolysis and autophagy similar to those of PSEN1 FAD mutations can be recapitulated in microglia when modeled by a phosphorylation-deficient variant of presenilin having similar loss-of-function properties. If dysregulation of such a variant in microglia can be shown to have Alzheimer’s disease relevance, it is likely that there would be negative consequences for phagocytic and proteolytic clearance functions. Given the cell type and species conservation of PSEN1-dependent acidification mechanisms involving V0a1 trafficking and assembly of the vATPase complex and also the lysosomal chloride ion channel ClC7 (Lee et al., 2020), it would be predicted that microglial clearance functions are also impaired in PSEN1 FAD. If so, this may help explain the greater abundance of amyloid and plaque debris in PSEN1 FAD cases also implying slower clearance rather than greater production of amyloid.

    In a previous report (Bustos et al., 2017), the Rockefeller group proposed that the same phospho-deficient mutant interfered with neuronal autophagosome-lysosome fusion and, in doing so, increased levels of APP-βCTF. The rise in APP-βCTF levels noted in that study and the recent findings in the microglial model of impaired lysosomal function due to a rise in pH accord remarkably well with our recent report demonstrating an inhibitory effect of APP-CTF on lysosomal pH (Jiang et al., 2019) and our preliminary report showing this is due to a direct interfering interaction of APP-βCTF with the vATPase (Im et al., ADPD poster presentation 2019). 

    It is puzzling why this demonstrated action of APP-CTF on lysosomal pH and the group’s previous report of APP-βCTF elevations in presumably the same lysosomal compartment were not considered as a possible mechanism for the phospho-deficient mutant and instead a highly speculative alternative was favored. Ledo et al. propose that the 10 percent decrease in the mRNA level of expression of the V0a1 subunit mRNA (FDR. KI-WT, 0.045) or roughly 50 percent by qPCR (p<0.05) is the underlying explanation for the observed lysosomal pH change. While plausible, this is unlikely, especially in the absence of any substantiation such as measuring vATPase complex subunit levels or vATPase complex function. It is well known that mRNA expression is a risky predictor of steady-state protein levels and, in this regard, our RNA-Seq data on PSEN1 FAD fibroblasts and PSEN1 deletion from neurons and other cell types uniformly show an increased expression of V0a1 subunit mRNA yet decreased lysosomal level of V0a1 protein and lowered vATPase function associated with a pH rise. Restoration of normal pH in this model by strong TFEB overexpression, as Ledo et al. reported, cannot be considered persuasive evidence that the minimally lowered V0a1 mRNA is the cause of pH dysfunction.

    Going forward, it will be interesting to know whether presenilin1 phosphorylation is physiologically regulated in neurons or glial subtypes and to establish whether autophagy/lysosomal functions in microglia are impaired in PSEN1 FAD, as predicted.


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    View all comments by Ralph Nixon
  5. This manuscript of Ledo and co-workers follows up on their earlier work on a S367-phosphorylation-deficient mutant of PSEN1. Their previous work highlighted a role for S367 phosphorylation in an alternative degradation of β-C-terminal fragments of amyloid-β precursor protein through autophagy and mediated through interactions with Annexin2 and SNARE proteins (Bustos et al., 2017, and 2017). They now document a novel role specifically in microglia. They did so by creating microglia-selective phosphorylation-deficient KI mice and found multiple defects that could be trailed back to a corrupted phagocytosis-lysosome pathway.

    In general, it is exciting that besides neurons, proper PSEN1 function is required for normal microglial biology as well, and in particular for Aβ clearance, highlighting again that likely much more is yet to be discovered about these proteins and in particular about γ-secretase in the context of AD pathogenesis. This study underscores once more the impact a single post-translational modification can have on not only Aβ production but now on Aβ clearance as well. We also reported that a single phosphorylation site in a sorting motif in PSEN2 is sufficient to dramatically alter its subcellular localization and consequently alter the Aβ42/40 ratio (Sannerud et al., 2016). 

    Another intriguing aspect of this work is the γ-secretase-independent nature of the observation: Is this related to other reports of a moonlighting role of PSENs, for instance related to a functional connection to the cytoskeleton in the moss P. patens (Khandelwal et al., 2007), and lysosomal Ca2+ storage/release and autophagy/lysosome defects in PSEN-deficient cells (Coen et al., 2012; Neely et al., 2011)? Because of the relevance of endolysosomal abnormalities in early stages of AD pathogenesis, this is an aspect that requires more investigation: For instance, are PSENs acting herein in or out of the context of other γ-secretase subunits? This study doesn’t answer that question. The authors only tested Notch but it might be worthwhile to investigate other γ-secretase substrates that are functionally involved in Aβ clearance, including TREM2, LRP, and others. Likewise, if the S367A-PSEN1 affects Aβ degradation, is this mutant actually localized on phagosomes or autophagolysosomes?

    With respect to the observed alterations in gene expression, this experiment was done on the whole pool of isolated microglia; it might be worth investigating to what extent the alterations the authors observe (in phagosome maturation, 14-3-3 and ERK/MAPK pathways) are restricted or maybe more pronounced in the pool of disease-associated microglia.


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    View all comments by Wim Annaert

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