Molecular and cellular function of ALS2/alsin: Implication of membrane dynamics in neuronal development and degeneration
ALS2 is a causative gene for a juvenile autosomal recessive form of motor neuron diseases (MNDs), including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 2 (ALS2), juvenile primary lateral sclerosis, and infantile-onset ascending hereditary spastic paralysis. These disorders are characterized by ascending degeneration of the upper motor neurons with or without lower motor neuron involvement. Thus far, a total of 12 independent ALS2 mutations, which include a small deletion, non-sense mutation, or missense mutation spreading widely across the entire coding sequence, are reported. They are predicted to result in either premature termination of translation or substitution of an evolutionarily conserved amino acid. Thus, a loss of functions in the ALS2-coded protein accounts for motor dysfunction and/or degeneration in the ALS2-linked MNDs. The ALS2 gene encodes a novel 184kDa protein of 1657 amino acids, ALS2 or alsin, comprising three predicted guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) domains: the N-terminal RCC1-like domain, the central Dbl homology and pleckstrin homology (DH/PH) domains, and the C-terminal vacuolar protein sorting 9 (VPS9) domain. In addition, eight consecutive membrane occupation and recognition nexus (MORN) motifs are noted in the region between DH/PH and VPS9 domains. ALS2 activates Rab5 small GTPase and involves in endosome/membrane trafficking and fusions in the cells, and also promotes neurite outgrowth in neuronal cultures. Further, a neuroprotective role for ALS2 against cytotoxicity; i.e., the mutant Cu/Zn-superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1)-mediated toxicity, oxidative stress, and excitotoxicity, has recently been implied. This review outlines current understandings of the molecular and cellular functions of ALS2 and its related proteins on safeguarding the integrity of motor neurons, and sheds light on the molecular pathogenesis of MNDs as well as other conditions of neurodegenerative diseases.