Autism-associated R451C mutation in neuroligin3 leads to activation of the unfolded protein response in a PC12 Tet-On inducible system

Lisa Ulbrich, Flores Lietta Favaloro, Laura Trobiani, Valentina Marchetti, Vruti Patel, Tiziana Pascucci, Davide Comoletti, Stefan J. Marciniak, Antonella De Jaco

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21 Scopus citations


Several forms of monogenic heritable autism spectrum disorders are associated with mutations in the neuroligin genes. The autism-linked substitution R451C in neuroligin3 induces local misfolding of its extracellular domain, causing partial retention in the ER (endoplasmic reticulum) of expressing cells. We have generated a PC12 Tet-On cell model system with inducible expression of wild-type or R451C neuroligin3 to investigate whether there is activation of the UPR (unfolded protein response) as a result of misfolded protein retention. As a positive control for protein misfolding, we also expressed the mutant G221R neuroligin3, which is known to be completely retained within the ER. Our data show that overexpression of either R451C or G221R mutant proteins leads to the activation of all three signalling branches of the UPR downstream of the stress sensors ATF6 (activating transcription factor 6), IRE1 (inositol-requiring enzyme 1) and PERK [PKR (dsRNA-dependent protein kinase)- like endoplasmic reticulum kinase]. Each branch displayed different activation profiles that partially correlated with the degree of misfolding caused by each mutation. We also show that up-regulation of BiP (immunoglobulin heavy-chain-binding protein) and CHOP [C/EBP (CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein)- homologous protein] was induced by both mutant proteins but not by wild-type neuroligin3, both in proliferative cells and cells differentiated to a neuron-like phenotype. Collectively, our data show that mutant R451C neuroligin3 activates the UPR in a novel cellmodel system, suggesting that this cellular responsemay have a role in monogenic forms of autism characterized by misfolding mutations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)423-434
Number of pages12
JournalBiochemical Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


  • Autism
  • ER stress
  • Molecular chaperones
  • Neuroligin
  • Protein misfolding
  • Unfolded protein response


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