Misfolded superoxide dismutase-1 in sporadic and familial Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Sammanfattning: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative syndrome of unknown etiology that most commonly affects people in middle and high age. The hallmark of ALS is a progressive and simultaneous loss of upper and lower motor neurons in the central nervous system that leads to a progressive muscle atrophy, paralysis and death usually by respiratory failure. ALS is not a pure motor neuronal syndrome; it extends beyond the motor system and affects extramotor areas of the brain as well. The majority of the patients suffer from a sporadic ALS disease (SALS) while in at least ten percent the disease appears in a familial form (FALS). Mutations in the gene encoding the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1) are the most common cause of FALS. More than 165 SOD1 mutations have been described, and these confer the enzyme a cytotoxic gain of function. Evidence suggests that the toxicity results from structural instability which makes the mutated enzyme prone to misfold and form aggregates in the spinal cord and brain motor neurons. Recent studies indicate that the wild-type human SOD1 protein (wt-hSOD1) has the propensity to develop neurotoxic features. The aim of the present study was to investigate if wt-hSOD1 is involved in the pathogenesis of SALS and FALS patients lacking SOD1 mutations and to evaluate the neurotoxic effect of misfolded wt-hSOD1 protein in vivo by generating a transgenic wt-hSOD1 mice model. We produced specific SOD1-peptide-generated antibodies that could discriminate between the misfolded and native form of the enzyme and optimized a staining protocol for detection of misfolded wt-hSOD1 by immunohistochemistry and confocal microscopy of brain and spinal cord tissue. We discovered that aggregates of misfolded wt-hSOD1 were constitutively present in the cytoplasm of motor neurons in all investigated SALS patients and in FALS patients lacking SOD1 gene mutations. Interestingly, the misfolded wt-hSOD1 aggregates were also found in some motor neuron nuclei and in the nuclei of the surrounding glial cells, mainly astrocytes but also microglia and oligodendrocytes, indicating that misfolded wt-hSOD1 protein aggregates may exert intranuclear toxicity. We compared our findings to FALS with SOD1 mutations by investigating brain and spinal cord tissue from patients homozygous for the D90A SOD1 mutation, a common SOD1 mutation that encodes a stable SOD1 protein with a wild-type-like enzyme activity. We observed a similar morphology with a profound loss of motor neurons and aggregates of misfolded SOD1 in the remaining motor neuron. Interestingly, we found gliosis and microvacuolar degeneration in the superficial lamina of the frontal and temporal lobe, indicating a possible frontotemporal lobar dementia in addition to the ALS disorder. Our morphological and biochemical findings were tested in vivo by generating homozygous transgenic mice that over expressed wt-hSOD1. These mice developed a fatal ALS-like disease, mimicking the one seen in mice expressing mutated hSOD1. The wt-hSOD1 mice showed a slower weight gain compared to non-transgenic mice and developed a progressive ALS-like hind-leg paresis. Aggregates of misfolded wt-hSOD1 were found in the brain and spinal cord neurons similar to those in humans accompanied by a loss of 41 % of motor neurons compared to non-transgenic litter mates. In conclusion, we found misfolded wt-hSOD1 aggregates in the cytoplasm and nuclei of motor neurons and glial cells in all patients suffering from ALS syndrome. Notable is the fact that misfolded wt-hSOD1 aggregates were also detected in FALS patients lacking SOD1 mutations indicating a role for SOD1 even when other genetic mutations are present. The neurotoxicity of misfolded wt-hSOD1 protein was confirmed in vivo by wt-hSOD1 transgenic mice that developed a fatal ALS-like disease. Taken together, our results support the notion that misfolded wt-hSOD1 could be generally involved and play a decisive role in the pathogenesis of all forms of ALS.