A new molecular link between defective autophagy and erythroid abnormalities in chorea-acanthocytosis

Francesca Lupo, Elena Tibaldi, Alessandro Matte, Alok K. Sharma, Anna Maria Brunati, Seth L. Alper, Carlo Zancanaro, Donatella Benati, Angela Siciliano, Mariarita Bertoldi, Francesca Zonta, Alexander Storch, Ruth H. Walker, Adrian Danek, Benedikt Bader, Andreas Hermann and Lucia De Franceschi

Key Points

  • In chorea-acanthocytosis, spiculated red cells are characterized by heightened Lyn kinase activity and dysregulated autophagy.

  • Regulation of protein turnover by autophagy plays a key role in erythropoiesis and red cell integrity.


Chorea-acanthocytosis is one of the hereditary neurodegenerative disorders known as the neuroacanthocytoses. Chorea-acanthocytosis is characterized by circulating acanthocytes deficient in chorein, a protein of unknown function. We report here for the first time that chorea-acanthocytosis red cells are characterized by impaired autophagy, with cytoplasmic accumulation of active Lyn and of autophagy-related proteins Ulk1 and Atg7. In chorea-acanthocytosis erythrocytes, active Lyn is sequestered by HSP90-70 to form high-molecular-weight complexes that stabilize and protect Lyn from its proteasomal degradation, contributing to toxic Lyn accumulation. An interplay between accumulation of active Lyn and autophagy was found in chorea-acanthocytosis based on Lyn coimmunoprecipitation with Ulk1 and Atg7 and on the presence of Ulk1 in Lyn-containing high-molecular-weight complexes. In addition, chorein associated with Atg7 in healthy but not in chorea-acanthocytosis erythrocytes. Electron microscopy detected multivesicular bodies and membrane remnants only in circulating chorea-acanthocytosis red cells. In addition, reticulocyte-enriched chorea-acanthocytosis red cell fractions exhibited delayed clearance of mitochondria and lysosomes, further supporting the impairment of authophagic flux. Because autophagy is also important in erythropoiesis, we studied in vitro CD34+-derived erythroid precursors. In chorea-acanthocytosis, we found (1) dyserythropoiesis; (2) increased active Lyn; (3) accumulation of a marker of autophagic flux and autolysososme degradation; (4) accumlation of Lamp1, a lysosmal membrane protein, and LAMP1-positive aggregates; and (5) reduced clearance of lysosomes and mitochondria. Our results uncover in chorea-acanthocytosis erythroid cells an association between accumulation of active Lyn and impaired autophagy, suggesting a link between chorein and autophagic vesicle trafficking in erythroid maturation.

  • Submitted July 10, 2016.
  • Accepted September 24, 2016.
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