The autophagy-inducing kinases, ULK1 and ULK2, regulate axon guidance in the developing mouse forebrain via a noncanonical pathway. uri icon


  • Mammalian ULK1 (unc-51 like kinase 1) and ULK2, Caenorhabditis elegans UNC-51, and Drosophila melanogaster Atg1 are serine/threonine kinases that regulate flux through the autophagy pathway in response to various types of cellular stress. C. elegans UNC-51 and D. melanogaster Atg1 also promote axonal growth and defasciculation; disruption of these genes results in defective axon guidance in invertebrates. Although disrupting ULK1/2 function impairs normal neurite outgrowth in vitro, the role of ULK1 and ULK2 in the developing brain remains poorly characterized. Here, we show that ULK1 and ULK2 are required for proper projection of axons in the forebrain. Mice lacking Ulk1 and Ulk2 in their central nervous systems showed defects in axonal pathfinding and defasciculation affecting the corpus callosum, anterior commissure, corticothalamic axons and thalamocortical axons. These defects impaired the midline crossing of callosal axons and caused hypoplasia of the anterior commissure and disorganization of the somatosensory cortex. The axon guidance defects observed in ulk1/2 double-knockout mice and central nervous system-specific (Nes-Cre) Ulk1/2-conditional double-knockout mice were not recapitulated in mice lacking other autophagy genes (i.e., Atg7 or Rb1cc1 [RB1-inducible coiled-coil 1]). The brains of Ulk1/2-deficient mice did not show stem cell defects previously attributed to defective autophagy in ambra1 (autophagy/Beclin 1 regulator 1)- and Rb1cc1-deficient mice or accumulation of SQSTM1 (sequestosome 1)+ or ubiquitin+ deposits. Together, these data demonstrate that ULK1 and ULK2 regulate axon guidance during mammalian brain development via a noncanonical (i.e., autophagy-independent) pathway.

publication date

  • 2018