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Keywords:

  • conformational disease;
  • neuroserpin;
  • serpins;
  • therapies;
  • α1-antitrypsin

Members of the serine protease inhibitor (serpin) superfamily are found in all branches of life and play an important role in the regulation of enzymes involved in proteolytic cascades. Mutants of the serpins result in a delay in folding, with unstable intermediates being cleared by endoplasmic reticulum-associated degradation. The remaining protein is either fully folded and secreted or retained as ordered polymers within the endoplasmic reticulum of the cell of synthesis. This results in a group of diseases termed the serpinopathies, which are typified by mutations of α1-antitrypsin and neuroserpin in association with cirrhosis and the dementia familial encephalopathy with neuroserpin inclusion bodies, respectively. Current evidence strongly suggests that polymers of mutants of α1-antitrypsin and neuroserpin are linked by the sequential insertion of the reactive loop of one molecule into β-sheet A of another. The ordered structure of the polymers within the endoplasmic reticulum stimulates nuclear factor-kappa B by a pathway that is independent of the unfolded protein response. This chronic activation of nuclear factor-kappa B may contribute to the cell toxicity associated with mutations of the serpins. We review the pathobiology of the serpinopathies and the development of novel therapeutic strategies for treating the inclusions that cause disease. These include the use of small molecules to block polymerization, stimulation of autophagy to clear inclusions and stem cell technology to correct the underlying molecular defect.