Protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) is a major cellular phosphatase with many protein substrates. As expected for a signaling molecule with many targets, inhibition of PP2A disrupts fundamental aspects of cellular physiology including cell division and survival. In post-mitotic neurons, the microtubule associated protein Tau is a particularly well-studied PP2A substrate as hyperphosphorylation of Tau is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Although many cellular targets are likely altered by loss of PP2A, here we find that activation of a single pathway can explain important aspects of the PP2A loss-of-function phenotype in neurons. We demonstrate that PP2A inhibits activation of the neuronal stress kinase DLK and its Drosophila ortholog Wallenda. In the fly, PP2A inhibition activates a DLK/Wallenda-regulated transcriptional program that induces synaptic terminal overgrowth at the neuromuscular junction. In cultured mammalian neurons, PP2A inhibition activates a DLK-dependent apoptotic program that induces cell death. Since hyperphosphorylated Tau is toxic, we wished to test the hypothesis that dephosphorylation of Tau by PP2A is required for neuronal survival. Contrary to expectations, in the absence of Tau PP2A inhibition still activates DLK and induces neuronal cell death, demonstrating that hyperphosphorylated Tau is not required for cell death in this model. Moreover, hyperphosphorylation of Tau following PP2A inhibition does not require DLK. Hence, loss of PP2A function in cortical neurons triggers two independent neuropathologies: 1) Tau hyperphosphorylation and 2) DLK activation and subsequent neuronal cell death. These findings demonstrate that inhibition of the DLK pathway is an essential function of PP2A required for normal Drosophila synaptic terminal development and mammalian cortical neuron survival.
- Synapse development