Manganese disturbs metal and protein homeostasis in Caenorhabditis elegans
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a debilitating motor and cognitive neurodegenerative disorder for which there is no cure. While aging is the major risk factor for developing PD, clear environmental risks have also been identified. Environmental exposure to the manganese (Mn) metal is a prominent risk factor for developing PD and occupational exposure to high levels of Mn can cause a syndrome known as manganism, which has symptoms that closely resemble PD. In this study, we developed a model of manganism in the environmentally tractable nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans. We find that, in addition to previously described modes of Mn toxicity, which primarily include mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress, Mn exposure also significantly antagonizes protein homeostasis, another key pathological feature associated with PD and many age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Mn treatment activates the ER unfolded protein response, severely exacerbates toxicity in a disease model of protein misfolding, and alters aggregate solubility. Further, aged animals, which have previously been shown to exhibit decreased protein homeostasis, are particularly susceptible to Mn toxicity when compared to young animals, indicating that the aging process sensitizes animals to metal toxicity. Mn exposure also significantly alters iron (Fe) and calcium (Ca) homeostasis, which is important for mitochondrial and ER health and which may further compound toxicity. These findings indicate that modeling manganism in C. elegans can provide a useful platform for identifying therapeutic interventions for ER stress, proteotoxicity, and age-dependent susceptibilities, key pathological features of PD and other related neurodegenerative diseases.