Spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA) is characterized by loss of motoneurons and sensory neurons, accompanied by atrophy of muscle cells. SBMA is due to an androgen receptor containing a polyglutamine tract (ARpolyQ) that misfolds and aggregates, thereby perturbing the protein quality control (PQC) system. Using SBMA AR113Q mice we analyzed proteotoxic stress-induced alterations of HSPB8-mediated PQC machinery promoting clearance of misfolded proteins by autophagy. In muscle of symptomatic AR113Q male mice, we found expression upregulation of Pax-7, myogenin, E2-ubiquitin ligase UBE2Q1 and acetylcholine receptor (AchR), but not of MyoD, and of two E3-ligases (MuRF-1 and Cullin3). TGFβ1 and PGC-1α were also robustly upregulated. We also found a dramatic perturbation of the autophagic response, with upregulation of most autophagic markers (Beclin-1, ATG10, p62/SQSTM1, LC3) and of the HSPB8-mediated PQC response. Both HSPB8 and its co-chaperone BAG3 were robustly upregulated together with other specific HSPB8 interactors (HSPB2 and HSPB3). Notably, the BAG3:BAG1 ratio increased in muscle suggesting preferential misfolded proteins routing to autophagy rather than to proteasome. Thus, mutant ARpolyQ induces a potent autophagic response in muscle cells. Alteration in HSPB8-based PQC machinery may represent muscle-specific biomarkers useful to assess SBMA progression in mice and patients in response to pharmacological treatments.
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