Imbalanced autophagy causes synaptic deficits in a human model for neurodevelopmental disorders
Macroautophagy (hereafter referred to as autophagy) is a finely tuned process of programmed degradation and recycling of proteins and cellular components, which is crucial in neuronal function and synaptic integrity. Mounting evidence implicates chromatin remodeling in fine-tuning autophagy pathways. However, this epigenetic regulation is poorly understood in neurons. Here, we investigate the role in autophagy of KANSL1, a member of the nonspecific lethal complex, which acetylates histone H4 on lysine 16 (H4K16ac) to facilitate transcriptional activation. Loss-of-function of KANSL1 is strongly associated with the neurodevelopmental disorder Koolen-de Vries Syndrome (KdVS). Starting from KANSL1-deficient human induced-pluripotent stem cells, both from KdVS patients and genome-edited lines, we identified SOD1 (superoxide dismutase 1), an antioxidant enzyme, to be significantly decreased, leading to a subsequent increase in oxidative stress and autophagosome accumulation. In KANSL1-deficient neurons, autophagosome accumulation at excitatory synapses resulted in reduced synaptic density, reduced GRIA/AMPA receptor-mediated transmission and impaired neuronal network activity. Furthermore, we found that increased oxidative stress-mediated autophagosome accumulation leads to increased MTOR activation and decreased lysosome function, further preventing the clearing of autophagosomes. Finally, by pharmacologically reducing oxidative stress, we could rescue the aberrant autophagosome formation as well as synaptic and neuronal network activity in KANSL1-deficient neurons. Our findings thus point toward an important relation between oxidative stress-induced autophagy and synapse function, and demonstrate the importance of H4K16ac-mediated changes in chromatin structure to balance reactive oxygen species- and MTOR-dependent autophagy.