Lysosomes are classically viewed as vesicular structures to which cargos are delivered for degradation. Here, we identify a network of dynamic, tubular lysosomes that extends throughout Drosophila muscle, in vivo. Live imaging reveals that autophagosomes merge with tubular lysosomes and that lysosomal membranes undergo extension, retraction, fusion and fission. The dynamics and integrity of this tubular lysosomal network requires VCP, an AAA-ATPase that, when mutated, causes degenerative diseases of muscle, bone and neurons. We show that human VCP rescues the defects caused by loss of Drosophila VCP and overexpression of disease relevant VCP transgenes dismantles tubular lysosomes, linking tubular lysosome dysfunction to human VCP-related diseases. Finally, disruption of tubular lysosomes correlates with impaired autophagosome-lysosome fusion, increased cytoplasmic poly-ubiquitin aggregates, lipofuscin material, damaged mitochondria and impaired muscle function. We propose that VCP sustains sarcoplasmic proteostasis, in part, by controlling the integrity of a dynamic tubular lysosomal network.Mutations in a gene that produces a protein called Valosin-containing protein (VCP for short) causes degenerative diseases that affect the brain, muscle and bone. In nearly half of the individuals with these VCP-related diseases—which can also result in dementia, Paget's disease of the bone and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—the first symptom is muscle weakness. Currently, very little is known about how VCP affects muscles.Patients with VCP-related diseases often have problems clearing damaged proteins from their cells, and recent research suggests that VCP is important for forming a cellular structure known as a lysosome. Lysosomes contain powerful enzymes that destroy damaged proteins and other cellular structures that would otherwise accumulate in the cells. In most cells, lysosomes look like bubble-like compartments called vesicles. However, in some types of cells lysosomes have been observed to form a network of tubules that extend throughout the cell interior. However, it remains unclear what these tubules do, how they form in cells and whether they are altered in disease.Johnson et al. analyzed lysosomes in the muscle of the fruit fly species Drosophila melanogaster and discovered that lysosomes were in the form of a network of tubules that spread throughout each muscle cell. These tubules constantly changed in living muscles; extending, retracting, breaking and merging to form a large tubular lysosome network. When Johnson et al. reduced the amount of VCP produced by the muscle cells, via a method called RNA interference, the lysosome tubules broke down into vesicles that were no longer constantly changing. Modifying these defective fly muscle cells so that they produced the human VCP protein caused the tubules to form again. These results suggest that the human and fly VCP proteins are very similar and that they play a key role in either the ability of lysosomes to form tubules or the maintenance of existing tubules.Johnson et al. then engineered flies to produce a version of the VCP protein that had mutations commonly seen in individuals with degenerative diseases. Lysosome tubules did not form correctly in the muscle cells of these flies. These flies also had other abnormalities; for example, their cells showed a great build-up of damaged proteins, and their ability to move their muscles was weaker.These findings suggest that a network of lysosomal tubules is necessary for healthy muscle cells, but how and why these tubular networks are formed or maintained is still mysterious. What causes lysosomal membranes to form tubules? How do they break and fuse? And why are they necessary? Genetic experiments in fruit flies will be a great place to discover these mechanisms and understand the links to degenerative diseases in humans.
Johnson, A. E., Shu, H., Hauswirth, A. G., Tong, A., & Davis, G. W. (2015). VCP-dependent muscle degeneration is linked to defects in a dynamic tubular lysosomal network in vivo. ELife, 4. https://doi.org/10.7554/elife.07366