D. Paliga, F. Raudzus, S.H. Leppla, R. Heumann, S. Neumann (2018).
Lethal factor domain-mediated delivery of Nurr1 transcription factor enhances tyrosine hydroxylase activity and protects from neurotoxin-induced degeneration of dopaminergic cells.
Molecular Neurobiology 56(5): 3393–3403
doi: 10.1007/s12035-018-1311-6

The orphan transcription factor nuclear receptor-related 1 protein (Nurr1, also known as NR4A2) plays a key role in embryonic development and maintenance of mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. Nurr1 deficiency is associated with Parkinson’s disease where dopaminergic neurons degenerate suggesting that counter-regulation of Nurr1 activity may have therapeutic effects. Here, we bacterially expressed and isolated a human Nurr1 fusion protein containing a N-terminal cell delivery domain derived from detoxified anthrax lethal factor followed by wild type ubiquitin with deubiquitinating enzyme recognition site for intracellular cleavage. Addition of the Nurr1 fusion protein to dopaminergic SH-SY5Y cells generated a cleaved, cytosolic Nurr1-containing fragment which was associated with increased levels of tyrosine hydroxylase, the rate-limiting enzyme in dopamine synthesis. Promoter-activity assays confirmed that exposure of cells to full-length Nurr1 fusion protein activated not only its cognate human tyrosine hydroxylase promoter but also the corresponding mouse sequence, although at a reduced efficiency. Using 6-hydroxydopamine as a dopaminergic cell specific neurotoxin, we demonstrate that full-length Nurr1 fusion protein promotes a concentration-dependent protection from this toxic insult. Altogether, the enhancement of tyrosine hydroxylase in naïve dopaminergic cells and the protective effects in a cellular model of Parkinson’s disease suggest that full-length Nurr1 fusion protein may contribute to the development of a novel concept of protein-based therapy.