Mutations in MPZ, the gene encoding myelin protein zero (MPZ), the major protein constituent of peripheral myelin, can cause the adult-onset, inherited neuropathy Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, as well as the more severe, childhood-onset Bejerine-Sottas neuropathy and congenital hypomyelinating neuropathy. Most MPZ-truncating mutations associated with severe forms of peripheral neuropathy result in premature termination codons within the terminal or penultimate exons that are not subject to nonsense-mediated decay and are stably translated into mutant proteins with potential dominant-negative activity. However, some truncating mutations at the 3′ end of MPZ escape the nonsense-mediated decay pathway and cause a mild peripheral neuropathy phenotype. We examined the functional properties of MPZ-truncating proteins that escaped nonsense-mediated decay, and we found that frameshift mutations associated with severe disease cause an intracellular accumulation of mutant proteins, primarily within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which induces apoptosis. Curcumin, a chemical compound derived from the curry spice tumeric, releases the ER-retained MPZ mutants into the cytoplasm accompanied by a lower number of apoptotic cells. Our findings suggest that curcumin treatment is sufficient to relieve the toxic effect of mutant aggregation-induced apoptosis and may potentially have a therapeutic role in treating selected forms of inherited peripheral neuropathies.
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