Deletion of a single glutamate in torsinA correlates with early-onset dystonia, the most severe form of a neurological disorder characterized by uncontrollable muscle contractions. TorsinA is targeted to the ER (endoplasmic reticulum) in eukaryotic cells. We investigated the processing and membrane association of torsinA and the dystonia-associated Glu-deletion mutant (torsinAΔE). We found that the signal sequence of torsinA (residues 1–20 from the 40 amino-acid long N-terminal hydrophobic region) is cleaved in Drosophila S2 cells, as shown by the N-terminal sequencing after partial protein purification. TorsinA is not secreted from S2 cells. Consistently, sodium carbonate extraction and Triton X-114 treatment showed that torsinA is associated with the ER membrane in CHO (Chinese-hamster ovary) cells. In contrast, a variant of torsinA that contains the native signal sequence without the hydrophobic region Ile24–Pro40 does not associate with the membranes in CHO cells, and a truncated torsinA without the 40 N-terminal amino acids is secreted in the S2 culture. Thus the 20-amino-acid-long hydrophobic segment in torsinA, which remains at the N-terminus after signal-peptide cleavage, is responsible for the membrane anchoring of torsinA. TorsinAΔE showed similar cleavage of the 20 N-terminal amino acids and membrane association properties similar to wild-type torsinA but, unlike the wild-type, torsinAΔE was not secreted in the S2 culture even after deletion of the membrane-anchoring segment. This indicates that the dystonia-associated mutation produces a structurally distinct, possibly misfolded, form of torsinA, which cannot be properly processed in the secretory pathway of eukaryotic cells.
Abbreviations used: CHO, Chinese-hamster ovary; Con A, Concanavalin A; ER, endoplasmic reticulum; ERAD, ER-associated degradation; PNS, post-nuclear supernatant.