Frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are closely related clinical syndromes with overlapping molecular pathogenesis. Several families have been reported with members affected by frontotemporal dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or both, which show genetic linkage to a region on chromosome 9p21. Recently, two studies identified the FTD/ALS gene defect on chromosome 9p as an expanded GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat in a non-coding region of the chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 gene (C9ORF72). In the present study, we provide detailed analysis of the clinical features and neuropathology for 16 unrelated families with frontotemporal dementia caused by the C9ORF72 mutation. All had an autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance. Eight families had a combination of frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis while the other eight had a pure frontotemporal dementia phenotype. Clinical information was available for 30 affected members of the 16 families. There was wide variation in age of onset (mean = 54.3, range = 34–74 years) and disease duration (mean = 5.3, range = 1–16 years). Early diagnoses included behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (n = 15), progressive non-fluent aphasia (n = 5), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (n = 9) and progressive non-fluent aphasia–amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (n = 1). Heterogeneity in clinical presentation was also common within families. However, there was a tendency for the phenotypes to converge with disease progression; seven subjects had final clinical diagnoses of both frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and all of those with an initial progressive non-fluent aphasia diagnosis subsequently developed significant behavioural abnormalities. Twenty-one affected family members came to autopsy and all were found to have transactive response DNA binding protein with Mr 43 kD (TDP-43) pathology in a wide neuroanatomical distribution. All had involvement of the extramotor neocortex and hippocampus (frontotemporal lobar degeneration-TDP) and all but one case (clinically pure frontotemporal dementia) had involvement of lower motor neurons, characteristic of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In addition, a consistent and relatively specific pathological finding was the presence of neuronal inclusions in the cerebellar cortex that were ubiquitin/p62-positive but TDP-43-negative. Our findings indicate that the C9ORF72 mutation is a major cause of familial frontotemporal dementia with TDP-43 pathology, that likely accounts for the majority of families with combined frontotemporal dementia/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis presentation, and further support the concept that frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis represent a clinicopathological spectrum of disease with overlapping molecular pathogenesis.
frontotemporal dementia; frontotemporal lobar degeneration; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; C9ORF72, TDP-43
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are devastating neurodegenerative disorders with clinical, genetic, and neuropathological overlap. A hexanucleotide (GGGGCC) repeat expansion in a non-coding region of C9ORF72 is the major genetic cause of both diseases. The mechanisms by which this repeat expansion causes “c9FTD/ALS” are not definitively known, but RNA-mediated toxicity is a likely culprit. RNA transcripts of the expanded GGGGCC repeat form nuclear foci in c9FTD/ALS, and also undergo repeat-associated non-ATG (RAN) translation resulting in the production of three aggregation-prone proteins. The goal of this study was to examine whether antisense transcripts resulting from bidirectional transcription of the expanded repeat behave in a similar manner. We show that ectopic expression of (CCCCGG)66 in cultured cells results in foci formation. Using novel polyclonal antibodies for the detection of possible (CCCCGG)exp RAN proteins [poly(PR), poly(GP) and poly(PA)], we validated that (CCCCGG)66 is also subject to RAN translation in transfected cells. Of importance, foci composed of antisense transcripts are observed in the frontal cortex, spinal cord and cerebellum of c9FTD/ALS cases, and neuronal inclusions of poly(PR), poly(GP) and poly(PA) are present in various brain tissues in c9FTD/ALS, but not in other neurodegenerative diseases, including CAG repeat disorders. Of note, RNA foci and poly(GP) inclusions infrequently co-occur in the same cell, suggesting these events represent two distinct ways in which the C9ORF72 repeat expansion may evoke neurotoxic effects. These findings provide mechanistic insight into the pathogenesis of c9FTD/ALS, and have significant implications for therapeutic strategies.
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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Bidirectional transcription; C9ORF72; Expanded repeat; Frontotemporal dementia; Repeat-associated non-ATG translation; RNA foci
We aimed to accurately estimate the frequency of a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9orf72 that has been associated with a large proportion of cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
We screened 4448 patients diagnosed with ALS (El Escorial criteria) and 1425 patients with FTD (Lund-Manchester criteria) from 17 regions worldwide for the GGGGCC hexanucleotide expansion using a repeat-primed PCR assay. We assessed familial disease status on the basis of self-reported family history of similar neurodegenerative diseases at the time of sample collection. We compared haplotype data for 262 patients carrying the expansion with the known Finnish founder risk haplotype across the chromosomal locus. We calculated age-related penetrance using the Kaplan-Meier method with data for 603 individuals with the expansion.
In patients with sporadic ALS, we identified the repeat expansion in 236 (7·0%) of 3377 white individuals from the USA, Europe, and Australia, two (4·1%) of 49 black individuals from the USA, and six (8·3%) of 72 Hispanic individuals from the USA. The mutation was present in 217 (39·3%) of 552 white individuals with familial ALS from Europe and the USA. 59 (6·0%) of 981 white Europeans with sporadic FTD had the mutation, as did 99 (24·8%) of 400 white Europeans with familial FTD. Data for other ethnic groups were sparse, but we identified one Asian patient with familial ALS (from 20 assessed) and two with familial FTD (from three assessed) who carried the mutation. The mutation was not carried by the three Native Americans or 360 patients from Asia or the Pacific Islands with sporadic ALS who were tested, or by 41 Asian patients with sporadic FTD. All patients with the repeat expansion had (partly or fully) the founder haplotype, suggesting a one-off expansion occurring about 1500 years ago. The pathogenic expansion was non-penetrant in individuals younger than 35 years, 50% penetrant by 58 years, and almost fully penetrant by 80 years.
A common Mendelian genetic lesion in C9orf72 is implicated in many cases of sporadic and familial ALS and FTD. Testing for this pathogenic expansion should be considered in the management and genetic counselling of patients with these fatal neurodegenerative diseases.
Full funding sources listed at end of paper (see Acknowledgments).
Two studies recently identified a GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat expansion in a non-coding region of the chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 gene (C9ORF72) as the cause of chromosome 9p-linked amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). In a cohort of 231 probands with ALS, we identified the C9ORF72 mutation in 17 familial (27.4 %) and six sporadic (3.6%) cases. Patients with the mutation presented with typical motor features of ALS, although subjects with the C9ORF72 mutation had more frequent bulbar onset, compared to those without this mutation. Dementia was significantly more common in ALS patients and families with the C9ORF72 mutation and was usually early-onset FTD. There was striking clinical heterogeneity among the members of individual families with the mutation. The associated neuropathology was a combination of ALS with TDP-ir inclusions and FTLD-TDP. In addition to TDP-43-immunoreactive pathology, a consistent and specific feature of cases with the C9ORF72 mutation was the presence of ubiquitin-positive, TDP-43-negative inclusions in a variety of neuroanatomical regions, such as the cerebellar cortex. These findings support the C9ORF72 mutation as an important newly-recognized cause of ALS, provide a more detailed characterization of the associated clinical and pathological features and further demonstrate the clinical and molecular overlap between ALS and FTD.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; frontotemporal dementia; frontotemporal lobar degeneration; C9ORF72; TDP-43; chromosome 9p
Expansions of the non-coding GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat in the chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) gene were recently identified as the long sought-after cause of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) on chromosome 9p. In this study we aimed to determine whether the length of the normal - unexpanded - allele of the GGGGCC repeat in C9ORF72 plays a role in the presentation of disease or affects age at onset in C9ORF72 mutation carriers. We also studied whether the GGGGCC repeat length confers risk or affects age at onset in FTD and ALS patients without C9ORF72 repeat expansions. C9ORF72 genotyping was performed in 580 FTD, 995 ALS and 160 FTD-ALS patients and 1444 controls, leading to the identification of 211 patients with pathogenic C9ORF72 repeat expansions and an accurate quantification of the length of the normal alleles in all patients and controls. No meaningful association between the repeat length of the normal alleles of the GGGGCC repeat in C9ORF72 and disease phenotype or age at onset was observed in C9ORF72 mutation carriers or non-mutation carriers.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Frontotemporal Dementia; C9ORF72; Repeat-expansion disease; Association study
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are devastating neurodegenerative disorders with clinical, genetic, and neuropathological overlap. Hexanucleotide (GGGGCC) repeat expansions in a non-coding region of C9ORF72 are the major genetic cause of FTD and ALS (c9FTD/ALS). The RNA structure of GGGGCC repeats renders these transcripts susceptible to an unconventional mechanism of translation – repeat-associated non-ATG (RAN) translation. Antibodies generated against putative GGGGCC repeat RAN translated peptides (anti-C9RANT) detected high molecular weight, insoluble material in brain homogenates, and neuronal inclusions throughout the central nervous system of c9FTD/ALS cases. C9RANT immunoreactivity was not found in other neurodegenerative diseases, including CAG repeat disorders, or in peripheral tissues of c9FTD/ALS. The specificity of C9RANT for c9FTD/ALS is a potential biomarker for this most common cause of FTD and ALS. These findings have significant implications for treatment strategies directed at RAN translated peptides and their aggregation, and the RNA structures necessary for their production.
A large hexanucleotide (GGGGCC) repeat expansion in the first intron of C9ORF72, a gene located on chromosome 9p21, has been recently reported to be responsible for ∼40% of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cases of European ancestry. The aim of the current article was to describe the phenotype of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cases carrying the expansion by providing a detailed clinical description of affected cases from representative multi-generational kindreds, and by analysing the age of onset, gender ratio and survival in a large cohort of patients with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. We collected DNA and analysed phenotype data for 141 index Italian familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cases (21 of Sardinian ancestry) and 41 German index familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cases. Pathogenic repeat expansions were detected in 45 (37.5%) patients from mainland Italy, 12 (57.1%) patients of Sardinian ancestry and nine (22.0%) of the 41 German index familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cases. The disease was maternally transmitted in 27 (49.1%) pedigrees and paternally transmitted in 28 (50.9%) pedigrees (P = non-significant). On average, children developed disease 7.0 years earlier than their parents [children: 55.8 years (standard deviation 7.9), parents: 62.8 (standard deviation 10.9); P = 0.003]. Parental phenotype influenced the type of clinical symptoms manifested by the child: of the 13 cases where the affected parent had an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis–frontotemporal dementia or frontotemporal dementia, the affected child also developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis–frontotemporal dementia in nine cases. When compared with patients carrying mutations of other amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-related genes, those with C9ORF72 expansion had commonly a bulbar onset (42.2% compared with 25.0% among non-C9ORF72 expansion cases, P = 0.03) and cognitive impairment (46.7% compared with 9.1% among non-C9ORF72 expansion cases, P = 0.0001). Median survival from symptom onset among cases carrying C9ORF72 repeat expansion was 3.2 years lower than that of patients carrying TARDBP mutations (5.0 years; 95% confidence interval: 3.6–7.2) and longer than those with FUS mutations (1.9 years; 95% confidence interval: 1.7–2.1). We conclude that C9ORF72 hexanucleotide repeat expansions were the most frequent mutation in our large cohort of patients with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis of Italian, Sardinian and German ancestry. Together with mutation of SOD1, TARDBP and FUS, mutations of C9ORF72 account for ∼60% of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in Italy. Patients with C9ORF72 hexanucleotide repeat expansions present some phenotypic differences compared with patients with mutations of other genes or with unknown mutations, namely a high incidence of bulbar-onset disease and comorbidity with frontotemporal dementia. Their pedigrees typically display a high frequency of cases with pure frontotemporal dementia, widening the concept of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; familial ALS, C9ORF72 gene; phenotype–genotype correlation
Expansion of GGGGCC repeats in C9orf72 causes familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia, but the underlying mechanism is unclear. Using RNA pulldown and immunohistochemistry in ALS biosamples, Cooper-Knock et al. identify proteins that bind to the repeat expansions. Disrupted RNA splicing and/or nuclear export may underlie C9orf72-ALS pathogenesis.
GGGGCC repeat expansions of C9orf72 represent the most common genetic variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal degeneration, but the mechanism of pathogenesis is unclear. Recent reports have suggested that the transcribed repeat might form toxic RNA foci that sequester various RNA processing proteins. Consensus as to the identity of the binding partners is missing and whole neuronal proteome investigation is needed. Using RNA fluorescence in situ hybridization we first identified nuclear and cytoplasmic RNA foci in peripheral and central nervous system biosamples from patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis with a repeat expansion of C9orf72 (C9orf72+), but not from those patients without a repeat expansion of C9orf72 (C9orf72−) or control subjects. Moreover, in the cases examined, the distribution of foci-positive neurons correlated with the clinical phenotype (t-test P < 0.05). As expected, RNA foci are ablated by RNase treatment. Interestingly, we identified foci in fibroblasts from an asymptomatic C9orf72+ carrier. We next performed pulldown assays, with GGGGCC5, in conjunction with mass spectrometry analysis, to identify candidate binding partners of the GGGGCC repeat expansion. Proteins containing RNA recognition motifs and involved in splicing, messenger RNA nuclear export and/or translation were significantly enriched. Immunohistochemistry in central nervous system tissue from C9orf72+ patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis demonstrated co-localization of RNA foci with SRSF2, hnRNP H1/F, ALYREF and hnRNP A1 in cerebellar granule cells and with SRSF2, hnRNP H1/F and ALYREF in motor neurons, the primary target of pathology in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Direct binding of proteins to GGGGCC repeat RNA was confirmed in vitro by ultraviolet-crosslinking assays. Co-localization was only detected in a small proportion of RNA foci, suggesting dynamic sequestration rather than irreversible binding. Additional immunohistochemistry demonstrated that neurons with and without RNA foci were equally likely to show nuclear depletion of TDP-43 (χ2
P = 0.75) or poly-GA dipeptide repeat protein inclusions (χ2
P = 0.46). Our findings suggest two non-exclusive pathogenic mechanisms: (i) functional depletion of RNA-processing proteins resulting in disruption of messenger RNA splicing; and (ii) licensing of expanded C9orf72 pre-messenger RNA for nuclear export by inappropriate association with messenger RNA export adaptor protein(s) leading to cytoplasmic repeat associated non-ATG translation and formation of potentially toxic dipeptide repeat protein.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; pathology; genetics; fluorescence imaging
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are part of a disease spectrum associated with TDP-43 pathology. Strong evidence supporting this is the existence of kindreds with family members affected by FTD, ALS or mixed features of FTD and ALS, referred to as FTD-MND. Some of these families have linkage to chromosome 9, with hexanucleotide expansion mutation in a noncoding region of C9ORF72. Discovery of the mutation defines c9FTD/ALS. Prior to discovery of mutations in C9ORF72, it was assumed that TDP-43 pathology in c9FTD/ALS was uniform. In this study, we examined the neuropathology and clinical features of 20 cases of c9FTD/ALS from a brain bank for neurodegenerative disorders. Included are six patients clinically diagnosed with ALS, eight FTD, one FTD-MND and four Alzheimer type dementia. Clinical information was unavailable for one patient. Pathologically, the cases all had TDP-43 pathology, but there were three major pathologic groups: ALS, FTLD-MND and FTLD-TDP. The ALS cases were morphologically similar to typical sporadic ALS with almost no extramotor TDP-43 pathology; all had oligodendroglial cytoplasmic inclusions. The FTLD-MND showed predominantly Mackenzie Type 3 TDP-43 pathology, and all had ALS-like pathology in motor neurons, but more extensive extramotor pathology, with oligodendroglial cytoplasmic inclusions and infrequent hippocampal sclerosis. The FTLD-TDP cases had several features similar to FTLD-TDP due to mutations in the gene for progranulin, including Mackenzie Type 1 TDP-43 pathology with neuronal intranuclear inclusions and hippocampal sclerosis. FTLD-TDP patients were older and some were thought to have Alzheimer type dementia. In addition to the FTD and ALS clinical presentations, the present study shows that c9FTD/ALS can have other presentations, possibly related to age of onset and presence of hippocampal sclerosis. Moreover, there is pathologic heterogeneity not only between ALS and FTLD, but within the FTLD group. Further studies are needed to address the molecular mechanism of clinical and pathological heterogeneity of c9FTD/ALS due to mutations in C9ORF72.
The hexanucleotide repeat in the chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) gene was recently discovered as the pathogenic mechanism underlying many families with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and/or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) linked to chromosome 9 (c9FTD/ALS). We report the clinical, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging findings of a family with the C9ORF72 mutation and clinical diagnoses bridging the FTD, parkinsonism and ALS spectrum.
To characterize the antemortem characteristics of a family with c9FTD/ALS associated with the GGGGCC repeat expansion in C9ORF72
Tertiary care academic medical center.
The members of the family affected by the mutation with features of FTD and/or ALS.
Main Outcome Measures
Clinical, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging assessments.
All three examined subjects had the hexanucleotide expansion detected in C9ORF72. All had personality/behavioral changes early in the course of the disease. One case had levodopa-unresponsive parkinsonism, and one had ALS. MRI showed symmetric bilateral frontal, temporal, insular and cingulate atrophy.
This report highlights the clinical and neuroimaging characteristics of a family with c9FTD/ALS. Further studies are needed to better understand the phenotypical variability and the clinico-neuroimaging-neuropathologic correlations.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a common dementia syndrome in patients under the age of 65 years with many features overlapping with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The link between FTD and ALS has been strengthened by the discovery that a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in a non-coding region of the C9ORF72 gene causes both familial and sporadic types of these two diseases. As we begin to understand the pathophysiological mechanisms by which this mutation leads to FTD and ALS (c9FTD/ALS), new targets for disease-modifying therapies will likely be unveiled. Putative C9ORF72 expansion pathogenic mechanisms include loss of C9ORF72 protein function, sequestration of nucleic acid binding proteins due to expanded hexanucleotide repeats, or a combination of the two. New animal models and other research tools informed by work in other repeat expansion neurodegenerative diseases such as the spinocerebellar ataxias will help to elucidate the mechanisms of C9ORF72-mediated disease. Similarly, re-examining previous studies of drugs developed to treat ALS in light of this new mutation may identify novel FTD treatments. Ultimately, research consortiums incorporating animal models and well-characterized clinical populations will be necessary to fully understand the natural history of the c9FTD/ALS clinical phenotypes and identify biomarkers and therapeutic agents that can cure the most common form of genetically determined FTD and ALS.
To determine the frequency of a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9ORF72, a gene of unknown function implicated in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), in Australian FTD patient cohorts and to examine the clinical and neuropathologic phenotypes associated with this expansion.
We examined a clinically ascertained FTD cohort (n = 89) and a neuropathologically ascertained cohort of frontotemporal lobar degeneration cases with TDP-43 pathology (FTLD-TDP) (n = 22) for the C9ORF72 hexanucleotide repeat expansion using a repeat primed PCR assay. All expansion-positive patients were genotyped for rs3849942, a surrogate marker for the chromosome 9p21 risk haplotype previously associated with FTD and ALS.
The C9ORF72 repeat expansion was detected in 10% of patients in the clinically diagnosed cohort, rising to 29% in those with a positive family history of early-onset dementia or ALS. The prevalence of psychotic features was significantly higher in expansion-positive cases (56% vs 14%). In the pathology cohort, 41% of TDP-43-positive cases harbored the repeat expansion, and all exhibited type B pathology. One of the 17 expansion-positive probands was homozygous for the “nonrisk” G allele of rs3849942.
The C9ORF72 repeat expansion is a relatively common cause of FTD in Australian populations, and is especially common in those with FTD-ALS, psychotic features, and a strong family history. Detection of a repeat expansion on the 9p21 putative “nonrisk” haplotype suggests that not all mutation carriers are necessarily descended from a common founder and indicates that the expansion may have occurred on multiple haplotype backgrounds.
Describe the clinical features of a Brazilian
C9orf72 frontotemporal dementia – amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis (FTD-ALS) kindred, and compare them to other reported
C9orf72 families and FTD-ALS causing mutations.
Report of a kindred.
Dementia center at an University hospital.
One kindred encompassing 3 generations.
The presence of a hexanucleotide (GGGGCC) expansion in
C9orf72 was confirmed by repeat-primed PCR and Southern
blot. The observed phenotypes were behavioral variant FTD and ALS with
dementia, with significant variability in age of onset and duration of
disease. Parkinsonian features with focal dystonia, visual hallucinations
and more posterior atrophy on neuroimaging than is typical for FTD were
bvFTD due to C9orf72 expansions displays some
phenotypic heterogeneity, and may be associated with hallucinations,
parkinsonism, focal dystonia, and posterior brain atrophy. Personality
changes may precede by many years the diagnosis of dementia and may be a
distinguishing feature of this mutation.
The GGGGCC (G4C2) intronic repeat expansion within C9ORF72 is the most common genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Intranuclear neuronal RNA foci have been observed in ALS and FTD tissues, suggesting that G4C2 RNA may be toxic. Here, we demonstrate that the expression of 38× and 72× G4C2 repeats form intranuclear RNA foci that initiate apoptotic cell death in neuronal cell lines and zebrafish embryos. The foci colocalize with a subset of RNA binding proteins, including SF2, SC35, and hnRNP-H in transfected cells. Only hnRNP-H binds directly to G4C2 repeats following RNA immunoprecipitation, and only hnRNP-H colocalizes with 70% of G4C2 RNA foci detected in C9ORF72 mutant ALS and FTD brain tissues. We show that expanded G4C2 repeats are potently neurotoxic and bind hnRNP-H and other RNA binding proteins. We propose that RNA toxicity and protein sequestration may disrupt RNA processing and contribute to neurodegeneration.
•Longer G4C2 transcripts form neurotoxic RNA foci in cells and zebrafish•Longer G4C2 foci sequester RNA binding proteins hnRNP-H, SC35, and SF2•G4C2 RNA foci and hnRNP-H knockdown similarly affect TARBP2 splicing•Seventy percent of G4C2 RNA foci in C9ORF72 ALS/FTD brains colocalize with hnRNP-H
In this study, Shaw and colleagues explore mechanisms underlying toxicity of the expanded G4C2 hexanucleotide intronic repeat in C9ORF72, the most common known cause of ALS and FTD. Pathologically expanded G4C2 RNA transcripts form intranuclear foci, sequester specific RNA-binding proteins, and are potently toxic in transfected cells and zebrafish embryos. One protein, hnRNP-H, is detected in 70% of foci in C9ORF72 brain tissues, and loss of hnRNP-H leads to aberrant RNA splicing that could contribute to neurodegeneration.
Purpose of review
The aim of this review is to describe disease mechanisms by which chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) repeat expansions could lead to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), and to discuss these diseases in relation to other non-coding repeat expansion disorders.
ALS and FTD are complex neurodegenerative disorders with a considerable clinical and pathological overlap, and this overlap is further substantiated by the recent discovery of C9ORF72 repeat expansions. These repeat expansions are currently the most important genetic cause of familial ALS and FTD, accounting for approximately 34.2% and 25.9% of the cases. Clinical phenotypes associated with these repeat expansions are highly variable, and combinations with mutations in other ALS- and/or FTD-associated genes may contribute to this pleiotropy. It is challenging, however, to diagnose patients with C9ORF72 expansions, not only because of large repeat sizes, but also due to somatic heterogeneity. Most other non-coding repeat expansion disorders share an RNA gain-of-function disease mechanism, a mechanism that could underlie the development of ALS and/or FTD as well.
The discovery of C9ORF72 repeat expansions provides novel insights into the pathogenesis of ALS and FTD, and highlights the importance of non-coding repeat expansions and RNA toxicity in neurodegenerative diseases.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; frontotemporal dementia; non-coding repeat expansion disorders; C9ORF72; genetics
A hexanucleotide repeat expansion in the C9ORF72 gene has recently been shown to cause a large proportion of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and fronto-temporal dementia (FTD).
We screened 4,448 patients diagnosed with ALS and 1,425 patients diagnosed with FTD drawn from diverse populations for the hexanucleotide expansion using a repeat-primed PCR assay. ALS and FTD were diagnosed according to the El Escorial and Lund-Manchester criteria respectively. Familial status was based on self-reported family history of similar neurodegenerative diseases at the time of sample collection. Haplotype data of 262 patients carrying the expansion were compared with the known Finnish founder risk haplotype across the chromosomal locus. Age-related penetrance was calculated by the Kaplan-Meier method using data from 603 individuals carrying the expansion.
The mutation was observed among 7·0% (n = 236 of 3,377) of Caucasians, 4·1% (n = 2 of 49) of African-Americans, and 8·3% (n = 6 of 72) of Hispanic individuals diagnosed with sporadic ALS, whereas the rate was 6·0% (n = 59 of 981) among Caucasians diagnosed with sporadic FTD. Among Asians, 5·0% (n = 1 of 20) of familial ALS and 66·6% (n = 2 of 3) of familial FTD cases carried the repeat expansion. In contrast, mutations were not observed among patients of Native American (n = 3 sporadic ALS), Indian (n = 31 sporadic ALS, n = 31 sporadic FTD), and Pacific Islander (n = 90 sporadic ALS) ethnicity. All patients with the repeat expansion carried, either partially or fully, the founder haplotype suggesting that the expansion occurred on a single occasion in the past (~1,500 years ago). The pathogenic expansion was non-penetrant below 35 years of age, increasing to 50·0% penetrance by 58 years of age, and was almost fully penetrant by 80 years of age.
We confirm that a common single Mendelian genetic lesion is implicated in a large proportion of sporadic and familial ALS and FTD. Testing for this pathogenic expansion will be important in the management and genetic counseling of patients with these fatal neurodegenerative diseases.
Hexanucleotide repeat expansions in chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) are currently the major genetic cause of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and motor neuron disease (MND). Presently, it is unknown whether expansion size affects disease severity or phenotypes.
We performed a cross-sectional Southern blot characterization study (Xpansize-72) in a cohort of subjects obtained at the Mayo Clinic and Banner Sun Health Research Institute. All subjects carried GGGGCC repeat expansions in C9ORF72, and high quality DNA was available from the frontal cortex, cerebellum and/or blood. Southern blotting techniques and densitometry were employed to estimate the repeat size of the most abundant expansion species. Comparisons of repeat sizes between tissues were made using Wilcoxon rank sum and Wilcoxon signed rank tests, and between disease subgroups using Kruskal-Wallis rank sum tests. The association of repeat size with age at onset and age at collection was evaluated using a Spearman’s test of correlation; whereas the association between repeat size and survival after disease onset was examined using Cox proportional hazards regression models.
Our cohort consisted of 84 C9ORF72 expansion carriers, including FTD patients (n=35), FTD/MND patients (n=16), MND patients (n=30), and unaffected subjects (n=3). We focused our analysis on three major tissue subgroups: frontal cortex (41 subjects [21 FTD, 11 FTD/MND, 9 MND]), cerebellum (40 subjects [20 FTD, 12 FTD/MND, 8 MND]), and blood (50 subjects [15 FTD, 9 FTD/MND, 23 MND, 3 unaffected expansion carriers]). Repeat lengths in the cerebellum were significantly smaller (median 12·3 kb [~1667 repeat units], IQR 11·1–14·3) than in the frontal cortex (median 33·8 kb [~5250 repeat units], IQR 23·5–44·9, p<0·0001), or in blood (median 18·6 kb [~2717 repeat units], IQR 13·9–28·1, p=0·0002). Within these tissues, there was no significant difference in repeat length between disease subgroups (cerebellum p=0·96, frontal cortex p=0·27, blood p=0·10). In the frontal cortex of FTD patients, repeat length correlated with age at onset (r=0·63, p=0·003) and age at collection (r=0·58, p=0·006); this correlation was not detected in the cerebellum or blood. Finally, only in the cerebellum, survival after disease onset was poorer in patients from our overall cohort with repeat lengths greater than 1467 repeat units (25th percentile, HR 3·27, 95% CI 1·34–7·95, p=0·009): the median survival was 4·8 years (IQR 3·0–7·4) in the group with longer expansions versus 7·4 years (IQR 6·3–10·9) in the group with smaller expansions.
Substantial variation in repeat size is observed between cerebellum, frontal cortex, and blood; relatively long repeat sizes in the cerebellum confer an important survival disadvantage. Our findings indicate that expansion size does affect disease severity, which could be relevant for genetic counseling.
Frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are related but distinct neurodegenerative diseases. The identification of a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in a noncoding region of the chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) gene as a common cause of FTD/ALS, familial FTD, and familial ALS marks the culmination of many years of investigation. This confirms the linkage of disease to chromosome 9 in large, multigenerational families with FTD and ALS, and it promotes deeper understanding of the diseases' shared molecular FTLD-TDP pathology. The discovery of the C9ORF72 repeat expansion has significant implications not only for familial FTD and ALS, but also for sporadic disease. Clinical and pathological correlates of the repeat expansion are being reported but remain to be refined, and a genetic test to detect the expansion has only recently become clinically available. Consequently, individuals and their families who are considering genetic testing for the C9ORF72 expansion should receive genetic counseling to discuss the risks, benefits, and limitations of testing. The following review aims to describe genetic counseling considerations for individuals at risk for a C9ORF72 repeat expansion.
Chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9orf72) is an evolutionarily conserved protein with unknown function, expressed at high levels in the brain. An expanded hexanucleotide GGGGCC repeat located in the first intron of the C9orf72 gene represents the most common genetic cause of familial frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Previous studies by immunohistochemistry with two different anti-C9orf72 antibodies named sc-138763 and HPA023873 showed that C9orf72 is expressed chiefly in the cytoplasm of neurons, and is concentrated in the synaptic terminals in the brains of FTD/ALS with or without C9orf72 repeat expansion as well as those of controls. At present, a pathological role of C9orf72 in the process of neurodegeneration remains unknown.
Using immunohistochemistry we studied C9orf72 expression in the frontal cortex and the hippocampus of six Alzheimer's disease (AD) and 13 control cases, including ALS, Parkinson's disease, multiple system atrophy, and non-neurological cases.
The HPA023873 antibody showed a cross-reactivity to glial fibrillary acidic protein, and therefore stained intensely reactive astrocytes in AD and non-AD brains. Both sc-138763 and HPA023873 antibodies labeled the neuronal cytoplasm and the neuropil with variable intensities, and intensely stained a cluster of p62-negative, UBQLN1-positive swollen neurites, which were distributed in the CA1 region and the molecular layer in the hippocampus of both AD and non-AD brains. Most notably, both of these antibodies reacted strongly with dystrophic neurites accumulated on senile plaques in AD brains.
These results suggest a general role of C9orf72 in the process of neurodegeneration in a range of human neurodegenerative diseases.
Intronic expansion of the GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat within the C9ORF72 gene causes frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease in both familial and sporadic cases. Initial reports indicate that this variant within the frontotemporal dementia/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis spectrum is associated with transactive response DNA binding protein (TDP-43) proteinopathy. The amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease phenotype is not yet well characterized. We report the clinical and pathological phenotypes associated with pathogenic C9ORF72 mutations in a cohort of 563 cases from Northern England, including 63 with a family history of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. One hundred and fifty-eight cases from the cohort (21 familial, 137 sporadic) were post-mortem brain and spinal cord donors. We screened DNA for the C9ORF72 mutation, reviewed clinical case histories and undertook pathological evaluation of brain and spinal cord. Control DNA samples (n = 361) from the same population were also screened. The C9ORF72 intronic expansion was present in 62 cases [11% of the cohort; 27/63 (43%) familial, 35/500 (7%) cases with sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease]. Disease duration was significantly shorter in cases with C9ORF72-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (30.5 months) compared with non-C9ORF72 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease (36.3 months, P < 0.05). C9ORF72 cases included both limb and bulbar onset disease and all cases showed combined upper and lower motor neuron degeneration (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Thus, clinically, C9ORF72 cases show the features of a relatively rapidly progressive, but otherwise typical, variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis associated with both familial and sporadic presentations. Dementia was present in the patient or a close family member in 22/62 cases with C9ORF72 mutation (35%) based on diagnoses established from retrospective clinical case note review that may underestimate significant cognitive changes in late disease. All the C9ORF72 mutation cases showed classical amyotrophic lateral sclerosis pathology with TDP-43 inclusions in spinal motor neurons. Neuronal cytoplasmic inclusions and glial inclusions positive for p62 immunostaining in non-motor regions were strongly over-represented in the C9ORF72 cases. Extra-motor pathology in the frontal cortex (P < 0.0005) and the hippocampal CA4 subfield neurons (P < 0.0005) discriminated C9ORF72 cases strongly from the rest of the cohort. Inclusions in CA4 neurons were not present in non-C9ORF72 cases, indicating that this pathology predicts mutation status.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; C9ORF72; dementia; neurodegeneration
Numerous kindreds with familial frontotemporal dementia or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or both have been linked to chromosome 9 (c9FTD/ALS), and an expansion of the GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat in the non-coding region of chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) was identified in the summer of 2011 as the pathogenic mechanism. An avalanche of papers on this disorder is in progress, and a relatively distinctive phenotype is taking form. In this review, we present an illustrative case and summarize the demographic, inheritance, clinical, and behavioral aspects and presumed pathologic underpinnings of c9FTD/ALS on the basis of the available data on more than 250 patients with frontotemporal lobar degeneration syndromes, parkinsonism, or ALS or a combination of these disorders.
It has been recently reported that a large proportion of patients with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (familial ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are associated with a hexanucleotide (GGGGCC) repeat expansion in the first intron of C9ORF72. We have assessed 1,757 Italian sporadic ALS cases, 133 from Sardinia, 101 from Sicily, and 1,523 from mainland Italy. Sixty (3.7%) of 1,624 mainland Italians and Sicilians and 9 (6.8%) of the 133 Sardinian sporadic ALS cases carried the pathogenic repeat expansion. None of the 619 regionally-matched control samples (1,238 chromosomes) carried the expansion. Twenty-five cases (36.2%) had behavioral FTD in addition to ALS. FTD or unspecified dementia was also detected in 19 pedigrees (27.5%) in first-degree relatives of ALS patients. Cases carrying the C9ORF72 hexanucleotide expansion survived one year less than cases who did not carry this mutation. In conclusion, we found that C9ORF72 hexanucloetide repeat expansions represents a sizeable proportion of apparent sporadic ALS in the Italian and Sardinian population, representing by far the commonest mutation in Italy and the second more common in Sardinia.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; C9ORF72; frontotemporal dementia; survival
A hexanucleotide (GGGGCC) expansion in C9ORF72 gene is the most common genetic change seen in familial Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD) and familial Motor Neurone Disease (MND). Pathologically, expansion bearers show characteristic p62 positive, TDP-43 negative inclusion bodies within cerebellar and hippocampal neurons which also contain dipeptide repeat proteins (DPR) formed from sense and antisense RAN (repeat associated non ATG-initiated) translation of the expanded repeat region itself. ‘Inappropriate’ formation, and aggregation, of DPR might therefore confer neurotoxicity and influence clinical phenotype. Consequently, we compared the topographic brain distribution of DPR in 8 patients with Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), 6 with FTD + MND and 7 with MND alone (all 21 patients bearing expansions in C9ORF72) using a polyclonal antibody to poly-GA, and related this to the extent of TDP-43 pathology in key regions of cerebral cortex and hippocampus. There were no significant differences in either the pattern or severity of brain distribution of DPR between FTD, FTD + MND and MND groups, nor was there any relationship between the distribution of DPR and TDP-43 pathologies in expansion bearers. Likewise, there were no significant differences in the extent of TDP-43 pathology between FTLD patients bearing an expansion in C9ORF72 and non-bearers of the expansion. There were no association between the extent of DPR pathology and TMEM106B or APOE genotypes. However, there was a negative correlation between the extent of DPR pathology and age at onset. Present findings therefore suggest that although the presence and topographic distribution of DPR may be of diagnostic relevance in patients bearing expansion in C9ORF72 this has no bearing on the determination of clinical phenotype. Because TDP-43 pathologies are similar in bearers and non-bearers of the expansion, the expansion may act as a major genetic risk factor for FTLD and MND by rendering the brain highly vulnerable to those very same factors which generate FTLD and MND in sporadic disease.
Frontotemporal lobar degeneration; Motor neurone disease; C9ORF72; Dipeptide repeat proteins
The chromosome 9p21 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-frontotemporal dementia (ALS-FTD) locus contains one of the last major unidentified autosomal dominant genes underlying these common neurodegenerative diseases. We have previously shown that a founder haplotype, covering the MOBKL2b, IFNK and C9ORF72 genes, is present in the majority of cases linked to this region. Here we show that there is a large hexanucleotide (GGGGCC) repeat expansion in the first intron of C9ORF72 on the affected haplotype. This repeat expansion segregates perfectly with disease in the Finnish population, underlying 46.0% of familial ALS and 21.1% of sporadic ALS in that population. Taken together with the D90A SOD1 mutation, 87% of familial ALS in Finland is now explained by a simple monogenic cause. The repeat expansion is also present in one third of familial ALS cases of outbred European descent making it the most common genetic cause of these fatal neurodegenerative diseases identified to date.
The recently identified GGGGCC repeat expansion in the noncoding region of C9ORF72 is the most common pathogenic mutation in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We generated a human neuronal model and investigated the pathological phenotypes of human neurons containing GGGGCC repeat expansions. Skin biopsies were obtained from two subjects who had >1,000 GGGGCC repeats in C9ORF72 and their respective fibroblasts were used to generate multiple induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines. After extensive characterization, two iPSC lines from each subject were selected, differentiated into postmitotic neurons, and compared with control neurons to identify disease-relevant phenotypes. Expanded GGGGCC repeats exhibit instability during reprogramming and neuronal differentiation of iPSCs. RNA foci containing GGGGCC repeats were present in some iPSCs, iPSC-derived human neurons and primary fibroblasts. The percentage of cells with foci and the number of foci per cell appeared to be determined not simply by repeat length but also by other factors. These RNA foci do not seem to sequester several major RNA-binding proteins. Moreover, repeat-associated non-ATG (RAN) translation products were detected in human neurons with GGGGCC repeat expansions and these neurons showed significantly elevated p62 levels and increased sensitivity to cellular stress induced by autophagy inhibitors. Our findings demonstrate that key neuropathological features of FTD/ALS with GGGGCC repeat expansions can be recapitulated in iPSC-derived human neurons and also suggest that compromised autophagy function may represent a novel underlying pathogenic mechanism.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00401-013-1149-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
ALS; Autophagy; C9ORF72; FTD; Hexanucleotide repeats; iPSCs; Neurodegeneration; Neurons; p62; RAN translation; RNA foci