✍️ Author: Dr Eleni Christoforidou
🕒 Approximate reading time: 5 minutes
Within the confines of our cells lies a vast network known as the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). While vital for protein synthesis and lipid metabolism, when stressed, the ER can play a surprising role in neurodegenerative conditions. Let's investigate this intricate relationship.
The endoplasmic reticulum is an expansive cellular structure responsible for various crucial tasks, including the folding and post-translational modification of proteins. It also oversees lipid synthesis and calcium storage.
ER stress occurs when there's an accumulation of misfolded or unfolded proteins within the ER lumen. To manage this, the cell triggers the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR) — a mechanism designed to restore ER function by halting protein synthesis, increasing protein folding capacity, and degrading misfolded proteins.
Evidence suggests that prolonged ER stress and the maladaptive UPR are linked to several neurodegenerative conditions:
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD): Aberrant protein aggregates seen in AD, such as amyloid-beta, can induce ER stress, leading to neuronal apoptosis.
Parkinson's Disease (PD): Misfolded alpha-synuclein, characteristic of PD, has been shown to trigger ER stress pathways.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): Mutations in certain genes linked to ALS can cause protein misfolding, prompting ER stress.
When ER stress isn't resolved promptly, it can lead to chronic UPR activation, which in turn may result in:
Neuronal apoptosis: Persistent UPR activation can initiate programmed cell death pathways.
Inflammation: Chronic ER stress can promote inflammatory pathways, exacerbating neurodegeneration.
Oxidative Stress: There's a complex interplay between ER stress and oxidative stress, with each magnifying the effects of the other.
Given the role ER stress plays in neurodegeneration, strategies aimed at enhancing the ER's protein-folding capacity or modulating the UPR hold therapeutic promise. Examples include chemical chaperones, which can assist in protein folding, and small molecules that can influence UPR pathways.
Understanding the multifaceted role of ER stress in neurodegenerative diseases is a burgeoning field with the potential to unveil novel therapeutic targets. While the intricacies are complex, the hope is that by unravelling these molecular pathways, we can pave the way for effective treatments in the future.