Neuronal inclusions of poly(GA), a protein unconventionally translated from G4C2 repeat expansions in C9ORF72, are abundant in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) caused by this mutation. To investigate poly(GA) toxicity, we generated mice that exhibit poly(GA) pathology, neurodegeneration and behavioral abnormalities reminiscent of FTD and ALS. These phenotypes occurred in the absence of TDP-43 pathology and required poly(GA) aggregation. HR23 proteins involved in proteasomal degradation and proteins involved in nucleocytoplasmic transport were sequestered by poly(GA) in these mice. HR23A and HR23B similarly colocalized to poly(GA) inclusions in C9ORF72 expansion carriers. Sequestration was accompanied by an accumulation of ubiquitinated proteins and decreased xeroderma pigmentosum C (XPC) levels in mice, indicative of HR23A and HR23B dysfunction. Restoring HR23B levels attenuated poly(GA) aggregation and rescued poly(GA)-induced toxicity in neuronal cultures. These data demonstrate that sequestration and impairment of nuclear HR23 and nucleocytoplasmic transport proteins is an outcome of, and a contributor to, poly(GA) pathology.
A non-coding hexanucleotide repeat expansion in the C9ORF72 gene is the most common mutation associated with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Patients harboring this expansion develop several unique histopathological hallmarks, including intranuclear foci composed of either sense or antisense RNA transcripts from the expanded repeats and dipeptide repeat proteins generated by non-canonical translation of the expanded RNA transcripts. To further investigate the pathological role of C9ORF72 in these diseases, we generated a line of mice carrying a bacterial artificial chromosome containing exons 1 to 6 of the human C9ORF72 gene with approximately 500 repeats of the GGGGCC motif. The mice showed no overt behavioral phenotype but recapitulated distinctive histopathological features that are the hallmark of C9ORF72 ALS/FTD, including sense and antisense intranuclear RNA foci and poly(glycine-proline) dipeptides repeat proteins. Finally, using a synthetic microRNA that targets human C9ORF72 in cultures of primary cortical neurons from the C9BAC mice, we have attenuated expression of the C9BAC transgene and the poly(GP) dipeptides. The C9ORF72 BAC transgenic mice will be a valuable tool in the study of ALS/FTD pathobiology and therapy.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); frontotemporal dementia (FTD); C9ORF72; transgenic mice; RNA foci; RAN translation; repeat expansions; neurodegeneration
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder linked to repetitive traumatic brain injury (TBI) and characterized by deposition of hyperphosphorylated tau at the depths of sulci. We sought to determine the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) pathology in a brain bank for neurodegenerative disorders for individuals with and without a history of contact sports participation. Available medical records of 1,721 men were reviewed for evidence of past history of injury or participation in contact sports. Subsequently, cerebral cortical samples were processed for tau immunohistochemistry in cases with a documented history of sports exposure as well as age- and disease-matched men and women without such exposure. For cases with available frozen tissue, genetic analysis was performed for variants in APOE, MAPT, and TMEM106B. Immunohistochemistry revealed 21 of 66 former athletes had cortical tau pathology consistent with CTE. CTE pathology was not detected in 198 individuals without exposure to contact sports, including 33 individuals with documented single-incident TBI sustained from falls, motor vehicle accidents, domestic violence, or assaults. Among those exposed to contact sports, those with CTE pathology did not differ from those without CTE pathology with respect to noted clinicopathologic features. There were no significant differences in genetic variants for those with CTE pathology, but we observed a slight increase in MAPT H1 haplotype, and there tended to be fewer homozygous carriers of the protective TMEM106B rs3173615 minor allele in those with sports exposure and CTE pathology compared to those without CTE pathology. In conclusion, this study has identified a small, yet significant, subset of individuals with neurodegenerative disorders and concomitant CTE pathology. CTE pathology was only detected in individuals with documented participation in contact sports. Exposure to contact sports was the greatest risk factor for CTE pathology. Future studies addressing clinical correlates of CTE pathology are needed.
chronic traumatic encephalopathy; traumatic brain injury; sports; microtubule-associated protein tau; brain bank
The loss of chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) expression, associated with C9ORF72 repeat expansions, has not been examined systematically. Three C9ORF72 transcript variants have been described thus far; the GGGGCC repeat is located between two non-coding exons (exon 1a and exon 1b) in the promoter region of transcript variant 2 (NM_018325.4) or in the first intron of variant 1 (NM_145005.6) and variant 3 (NM_001256054.2). We studied C9ORF72 expression in expansion carriers (n = 56) for whom cerebellum and/or frontal cortex was available. Using quantitative real-time PCR and digital molecular barcoding techniques, we assessed total C9ORF72 transcripts, variant 1, variant 2, variant 3, and intron containing transcripts [upstream of the expansion (intron 1a) and downstream of the expansion (intron 1b)]; the latter were correlated with levels of poly(GP) and poly(GA) proteins aberrantly translated from the expansion as measured by immunoassay (n = 50). We detected a decrease in expansion carriers as compared to controls for total C9ORF72 transcripts, variant 1, and variant 2: the strongest association was observed for variant 2 (quantitative real-time PCR cerebellum: median 43 %, p = 1.26e-06, and frontal cortex: median 58 %, p = 1.11e-05; digital molecular barcoding cerebellum: median 31 %, p = 5.23e-10, and frontal cortex: median 53 %, p = 5.07e-10). Importantly, we revealed that variant 1 levels greater than the 25th percentile conferred a survival advantage [digital molecular barcoding cerebellum: hazard ratio (HR) 0.31, p = 0.003, and frontal cortex: HR 0.23, p = 0.0001]. When focusing on intron containing transcripts, analysis of the frontal cortex revealed an increase of potentially truncated transcripts in expansion carriers as compared to controls [digital molecular barcoding frontal cortex (intron 1a): median 272 %, p = 0.003], with the highest levels in patients pathologically diagnosed with frontotemporal lobar degeneration. In the cerebellum, our analysis suggested that transcripts were less likely to be truncated and, excitingly, we discovered that intron containing transcripts were associated with poly(GP) levels [digital molecular barcoding cerebellum (intron 1a): r = 0.33, p = 0.02, and (intron 1b): r = 0.49, p = 0.0004] and poly(GA) levels [digital molecular barcoding cerebellum (intron 1a): r = 0.34, p = 0.02, and (intron 1b): r = 0.38, p = 0.007]. In summary, we report decreased expression of specific C9ORF72 transcripts and provide support for the presence of truncated transcripts as well as pre-mRNAs that may serve as templates for RAN translation. We further show that higher C9ORF72 levels may have beneficial effects, which warrants caution in the development of new therapeutic approaches.
C9ORF72; Frontotemporal dementia; Frontotemporal lobar degeneration; Motor neuron disease; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Disease modifier
Genes linked to ALS susceptibility are being identified at an increasing rate owing to advances in molecular genetic technology. Genetic mechanisms in ALS pathogenesis appear to exert major effects in ~10% of patients, but genetic factors at some level may be important components of disease risk in most ALS patients. Identification of gene variants associated with ALS has informed concepts of the pathogenesis of ALS, aided the identification of therapeutic targets, facilitated research to develop new ALS biomarkers, and supported the establishment of clinical diagnostic tests for ALS-linked genes. Translation of this knowledge to ALS therapy development is ongoing.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; ALS; Familial ALS; Genetics; Phenotypes; Genetic testing
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative disorder affecting upper and lower motor neurons, but it is increasingly recognized to affect other systems, with cognitive impairment resembling frontotemporal dementia (FTD) in some patients. We report clinical and pathologic findings of a family with ALS due to a truncating mutation, p.Gly141X, in copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1). The proband presented clinically with FTD and later showed progressive motor neuron disease, while all other family members had early-onset and rapidly progressive ALS without significant cognitive deficits. Pathologic examination of both the proband and her daughter revealed degeneration of corticospinal tracts and motor neurons in brain and spinal cord compatible with ALS. On the other hand, the proband also had neocortical and limbic system degeneration with pleomorphic neuronal cytoplasmic inclusions. Extramotor pathology in her daughter was relatively restricted to the hypothalamus and extrapyramidal system, but not the neocortex. The inclusions in the proband and her daughter were immunoreactive for SOD1, but negative for TAR DNA binding protein of 43 kDa (TDP-43). In the proband, a number of the neocortical inclusions were immunopositive for α-internexin, initially suggesting a diagnosis of atypical FTLD, but there was no evidence of fused in sarcoma (FUS) immunoreactivity, which is often detected in atypical FTLD. Analogous to atypical FTLD, neuronal inclusions had variable co-localization of SOD1 and α-internexin. The current classification of FTLD is based on the major constituent protein: FTLD-tau, FTLD-TDP-43, and FTLD-FUS. The proband in this family indicates that SOD1, while rare, can also be the substrate of FTLD, in addition to the more common presentation of ALS. The explanation for clinical and pathologic heterogeneity of SOD1 mutations, including the p.Gly141X mutation, remains unresolved.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; electron microscopy; frontotemporal lobar degeneration; immunohistochemistry; internexin-alpha; neurofilament; superoxide dismutase 1
Frontotemporal lobar degeneration with TAR DNA binding protein 43 inclusions (FTLD-TDP) is the most common pathology associated with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Repeat expansions in chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) and mutations in progranulin (GRN) are the major known genetic causes of FTLD-TDP; however, the genetic etiology in the majority of FTLD-TDP remains unexplained.
In this study, we performed whole-genome sequencing in 104 pathologically confirmed FTLD-TDP patients from the Mayo Clinic brain bank negative for C9ORF72 and GRN mutations and report on the contribution of rare single nucleotide and copy-number variants in 21 known neurodegenerative disease genes. Interestingly, we identified 5 patients (4.8%) with variants in optineurin (OPTN) and TANK-binding kinase 1 (TBK1) that are predicted to be highly pathogenic, including two double mutants. Case A was a compound heterozygote for mutations in OPTN, carrying the p.Q235* nonsense and p.A481V missense mutation in trans, while case B carried a deletion of OPTN exons 13–15 (p.Gly538Glufs*27) and a loss-of-function mutation (p.Arg117*) in TBK1. Cases C–E carried heterozygous missense mutations in TBK1, including the p.Glu696Lys mutation which was previously reported in two amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients and is located in the OPTN binding domain. Quantitative mRNA expression and protein analysis in cerebellar tissue showed a striking reduction of OPTN and/or TBK1 expression in 4 out of 5 patients supporting pathogenicity in these specific patients and suggesting a loss-of-function disease mechanism. Importantly, neuropathologic examination showed FTLD-TDP type A in the absence of motor neuron disease in 3 pathogenic mutation carriers.
In conclusion, we highlight TBK1 as an important cause of pure FTLD-TDP, identify the first OPTN mutations in FTLD-TDP, and suggest a potential oligogenic basis for at least a subset of FTLD-TDP patients. Our data further adds to the growing body of evidence linking ALS and FTD and suggests a key role for the OPTN/TBK1 pathway in these diseases.
Whole-genome sequencing; FTLD-TDP; OPTN; TBK1; oligogenic mechanism
Increasing evidence suggests that defective RNA processing contributes to the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This may be especially true for ALS caused by a repeat expansion in C9orf72 (c9ALS), in which the accumulation of RNA foci and dipeptide-repeat proteins are expected to modify RNA metabolism. We report extensive alternative splicing (AS) and alternative polyadenylation (APA) defects in the cerebellum of c9ALS cases (8,224 AS, 1,437 APA), including changes in ALS-associated genes (e.g. ATXN2 and FUS), and cases of sporadic ALS (sALS; 2,229 AS, 716 APA). Furthermore, hnRNPH and other RNA-binding proteins are predicted as potential regulators of cassette exon AS events for both c9ALS and sALS. Co-expression and gene-association network analyses of gene expression and AS data revealed divergent pathways associated with c9ALS and sALS.
The major genetic cause of frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a G4C2 repeat expansion in C9ORF72. Efforts to combat neurodegeneration associated with “c9FTD/ALS” are hindered by a lack of animal models recapitulating disease features. We developed a mouse model to mimic both neuropathological and clinical c9FTD/ALS phenotypes. We expressed (G4C2)66 throughout the murine central nervous system by means of somatic brain transgenesis mediated by adeno-associated virus. Brains of 6-month-old mice contained nuclear RNA foci, inclusions of poly(Gly-Pro), poly(Gly-Ala), and poly(Gly-Arg) dipeptide repeat proteins, as well as TDP-43 pathology. These mouse brains also exhibited cortical neuron and cerebellar Purkinje cell loss, astrogliosis, and decreased weight. (G4C2)66 mice also developed behavioral abnormalities similar to clinical symptoms of c9FTD/ALS patients, including hyperactivity, anxiety, antisocial behavior, and motor deficits.
Repeat expansions in chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) are an important cause of both motor neuron disease (MND) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Currently, little is known about factors that could account for the phenotypic heterogeneity detected in C9ORF72 expansion carriers. In this study, we investigated four genes that could represent genetic modifiers: ataxin-2 (ATXN2), non-imprinted in Prader-Willi/Angelman syndrome 1 (NIPA1), survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) and survival motor neuron 2 (SMN2). Assessment of these genes, in a unique cohort of 331 C9ORF72 expansion carriers and 376 controls, revealed that intermediate repeat lengths in ATXN2 possibly act as disease modifier in C9ORF72 expansion carriers; no evidence was provided for a potential role of NIPA1, SMN1 or SMN2. The effects of intermediate ATXN2 repeats were most profound in probands with MND or FTD/MND (2.1% versus 0% in controls, P=0.013), whereas the frequency in probands with FTD was identical to controls. Though intermediate ATXN2 repeats were already known to be associated with MND risk, previous reports did not focus on individuals with clear pathogenic mutations, such as repeat expansions in C9ORF72. Based on our present findings, we postulate that intermediate ATXN2 repeat lengths may render C9ORF72 expansion carriers more susceptible to the development of MND; further studies are needed, however, to validate our findings.
C9ORF72; ataxin-2; ATXN2; motor neuron disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; frontotemporal dementia; disease modifier
Clinical and neuropathological characteristics associated with G4C2 repeat expansions in chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72), the most common genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia, are highly variable. To gain insight on the molecular basis for the heterogeneity among C9ORF72 mutation carriers, we evaluated associations between features of disease and levels of two abundantly expressed “c9RAN proteins” produced by repeat-associated non-ATG (RAN) translation of the expanded repeat. For these studies, we took a departure from traditional immunohistochemical approaches and instead employed immunoassays to quantitatively measure poly(GP) and poly(GA) levels in cerebellum, frontal cortex, motor cortex, and/or hippocampus from 55 C9ORF72 mutation carriers [12 patients with ALS, 24 with frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and 19 with FTLD with motor neuron disease (FTLD-MND)]. We additionally investigated associations between levels of poly(GP) or poly(GA) and cognitive impairment in 15 C9ORF72 ALS patients for whom neuropsychological data were available. Among the neuroanatomical regions investigated, poly(GP) levels were highest in the cerebellum. In this same region, associations between poly(GP) and both neuropathological and clinical features were detected. Specifically, cerebellar poly(GP) levels were significantly lower in patients with ALS compared to patients with FTLD or FTLD-MND. Furthermore, cerebellar poly(GP) associated with cognitive score in our cohort of 15 patients. In the cerebellum, poly(GA) levels similarly trended lower in the ALS subgroup compared to FTLD or FTLD-MND subgroups, but no association between cerebellar poly(GA) and cognitive score was detected. Both cerebellar poly(GP) and poly(GA) associated with C9ORF72 variant 3 mRNA expression, but not variant 1 expression, repeat size, disease onset, or survival after onset. Overall, these data indicate that cerebellar abnormalities, as evidenced by poly(GP) accumulation, associate with neuropathological and clinical phenotypes, in particular cognitive impairment, of C9ORF72 mutation carriers.
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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; C9ORF72 repeat expansion; c9RAN proteins; Cognition; Dipeptide repeat proteins; Frontotemporal dementia; Frontotemporal lobar degeneration; Neuropathological diagnosis; Repeat-associated non-ATG translation
A repeat expansion in C9ORF72 causes frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (c9FTD/ALS). RNA of the expanded repeat (r(GGGGCC)exp) forms nuclear foci or undergoes repeat-associated non-ATG (RAN) translation producing “c9RAN proteins”. Since neutralizing r(GGGGCC)exp could inhibit these potentially toxic events, we sought to identify small molecule binders of r(GGGGCC)exp. Chemical and enzymatic probing of r(GGGGCC)8 indicate it adopts a hairpin structure in equilibrium with a quadruplex structure. Using this model, bioactive small molecules targeting r(GGGGCC)exp were designed and found to significantly inhibit RAN translation and foci formation in cultured cells expressing r(GGGGCC)66 and neurons trans-differentiated from fibroblasts of repeat expansion carriers. Finally, we show that poly(GP) c9RAN proteins are specifically detected in c9ALS patient cerebrospinal fluid. Our findings highlight r(GGGGCC)exp-binding small molecules as a possible c9FTD/ALS therapeutic, and suggest c9RAN proteins could potentially serve as a pharmacodynamic biomarker to assess efficacy of therapies that target r(GGGGCC)exp.
FTD/ALS; GGGGCC repeat; RAN translation; foci; RNA-small molecule interaction
Combining agents with different mechanisms of action may be necessary for meaningful results in treating ALS. The combinations of minocycline-creatine and celecoxib-creatine have additive effects in the murine model. New trial designs are needed to efficiently screen the growing number of potential neuroprotective agents. Our objective was to assess two drug combinations in ALS using a novel phase II trial design. We conducted a randomized, double-blind selection trial in sequential pools of 60 patients. Participants received minocycline (100 mg)-creatine (10 g) twice daily or celecoxib (400 mg)-creatine (10 g) twice daily for six months. The primary objective was treatment selection based on which combination best slowed deterioration in the ALS Functional Rating Scale-Revised (ALSFRS-R); the trial could be stopped after one pool if the difference between the two arms was adequately large. At trial conclusion, each arm was compared to a historical control group in a futility analysis. Safety measures were also examined. After the first patient pool, the mean six-month decline in ALSFRS-R was 5.27 (SD=5.54) in the celecoxib-creatine group and 6.47 (SD=9.14) in the minocycline-creatine group. The corresponding decline was 5.82 (SD=6.77) in the historical controls. The difference between the two sample means exceeded the stopping criterion. The null hypothesis of superiority was not rejected in the futility analysis. Skin rash occurred more frequently in the celecoxib-creatine group. In conclusion, the celecoxib-creatine combination was selected as preferable to the minocycline-creatine combination for further evaluation. This phase II design was efficient, leading to treatment selection after just 60 patients, and can be used in other phase II trials to assess different agents.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; ALS; minocycline; celecoxib; creatine; clinical trial; neuroprotection; combination therapy; selection trial
Variants in transmembrane protein 106 B (TMEM106B) modify the disease penetrance of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) in carriers of progranulin (GRN) mutations. We investigated whether TMEM106B is also a genetic modifier of disease in carriers of chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) expansions. We assessed the genotype of 325 C9ORF72 expansion carriers (cohort 1), 586 FTD patients lacking C9ORF72 expansions (with or without motor neuron disease [MND]; cohort 2), and a total of 1,302 controls for TMEM106B variants (rs3173615 and rs1990622) using MassArray iPLEX and Taqman genotyping assays. For our primary analysis, we focused on functional variant rs3173615, and employed a recessive genotypic model. In cohort 1, patients with C9ORF72 expansions showed a significantly reduced frequency of carriers homozygous for the minor allele as compared to controls (11.9% versus 19.1%, odds ratio (OR): 0.57, p=0.014; same direction as carriers of GRN mutations). The strongest evidence was provided by FTD patients (OR: 0.33, p=0.009) followed by FTD/MND patients (OR: 0.38, p=0.017), whereas no significant difference was observed in MND patients (OR: 0.85, p=0.55). In cohort 2, the frequency of carriers homozygous for the minor allele was not significantly reduced in patients as compared to controls (OR: 0.77, p=0.079); however, a significant reduction was observed when focusing on those patients with frontotemporal lobar degeneration and TAR DNA-binding protein 43 inclusions (FTLD-TDP; OR: 0.26, p<0.001).
Our study identifies TMEM106B as the first genetic factor modifying disease presentation in C9ORF72 expansion carriers. Homozygosity for the minor allele protects carriers from developing FTD, but not from developing MND; similar effects are seen in FTLD-TDP patients with yet unknown genetic causes. These new findings show that the protective effects of TMEM106B are not confined to carriers of GRN mutations, and might be relevant for prognostic testing, and as a promising therapeutic target for the entire spectrum of FTLD-TDP.
C9ORF72; TMEM106B; frontotemporal dementia; motor neuron disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; disease modifier
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.
Hexanucleotide repeat expansions in chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) are causative for frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and motor neuron disease (MND). Substantial phenotypic heterogeneity has been described in patients with these expansions. We set out to identify genetic modifiers of disease risk, age at onset, and survival after onset that may contribute to this clinical variability.
We examined a cohort of 330 C9ORF72 expansion carriers and 374 controls. In these individuals, we assessed variants previously implicated in FTD and/or MND; 36 variants were included in our analysis. After adjustment for multiple testing, our analysis revealed three variants significantly associated with age at onset (rs7018487 [UBAP1; p-value = 0.003], rs6052771 [PRNP; p-value = 0.003], and rs7403881 [MT-Ie; p-value = 0.003]), and six variants significantly associated with survival after onset (rs5848 [GRN; p-value = 0.001], rs7403881 [MT-Ie; p-value = 0.001], rs13268953 [ELP3; p-value = 0.003], the epsilon 4 allele [APOE; p-value = 0.004], rs12608932 [UNC13A; p-value = 0.003], and rs1800435 [ALAD; p-value = 0.003]).
Variants identified through this study were previously reported to be involved in FTD and/or MND, but we are the first to describe their effects as potential disease modifiers in the presence of a clear pathogenic mutation (i.e. C9ORF72 repeat expansion). Although validation of our findings is necessary, these variants highlight the importance of protein degradation, antioxidant defense and RNA-processing pathways, and additionally, they are promising targets for the development of therapeutic strategies and prognostic tests.
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C9ORF72; Frontotemporal dementia; Motor neuron disease; Genetic modifier; Repeat expansion
Mutations in profilin-1 (PFN1) have recently been
identified in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Because of
the considerable overlap between ALS and the common subtype of
frontotemporal dementia, which is characterized by transactive response
DNA-binding protein 43 pathology (FTLD-TDP), we tested cohorts of ALS and
FTLD-TDP patients for PFN1 mutations.
DNA was obtained from 342 ALS patients and 141 FTLD-TDP patients at
our outpatient clinic and brain bank for neurodegenerative diseases at the
Mayo Clinic Florida, Jacksonville, USA. We screened these patients for
mutations in coding regions of PFN1 by Sanger sequencing.
Subsequently, we used TaqMan genotyping assays to investigate the identified
variant in 1167 control subjects.
One variant, p.E117G, was detected in 1 ALS patient, 1 FTLD-TDP
patient, and 2 control subjects. The mutation frequency of patients versus
control subjects was not significantly different (p-value
= 0.36). Moreover, PFN1 and TDP-43 staining of autopsy material did
not differ between patients with or without this variant.
The p.E117G variant appears to represent a benign polymorphism.
PFN1 mutations, in general, are rare in ALS and
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; frontotemporal dementia; profilin-1; TDP-43; genetics
The occurrence of repeat-associated non-ATG (RAN) translation, an atypical form of translation of expanded repeats that results in the synthesis of homopolymeric expansion proteins, is becoming more widely appreciated among microsatellite expansion disorders. Such disorders include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia caused by a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in the C9ORF72 gene (c9FTD/ALS). We and others have recently shown that this bidirectionally transcribed repeat is RAN translated, and the “c9RAN proteins” thusly produced form neuronal inclusions throughout the central nervous system of c9FTD/ALS patients. Nonetheless, the potential contribution of c9RAN proteins to disease pathogenesis remains poorly understood. In the present study, we demonstrate that poly(GA) c9RAN proteins are neurotoxic and may be implicated in the neurodegenerative processes of c9FTD/ALS. Specifically, we show that expression of poly(GA) proteins in cultured cells and primary neurons leads to the formation of soluble and insoluble high molecular weight species, as well as inclusions composed of filaments similar to those observed in c9FTD/ALS brain tissues. The expression of poly(GA) proteins is accompanied by caspase-3 activation, impaired neurite outgrowth, inhibition of proteasome activity, and evidence of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. Of importance, ER stress inhibitors, salubrinal and TUDCA, provide protection against poly(GA)-induced toxicity. Taken together, our data provide compelling evidence towards establishing RAN translation as a pathogenic mechanism of c9FTD/ALS, and suggest that targeting the ER using small molecules may be a promising therapeutic approach for these devastating diseases.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00401-014-1336-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; C9ORF72; Expanded repeat; Frontotemporal dementia; Repeat-associated non-ATG translation; Poly(GA) proteins; Proteasome activity; ER stress
We examined the clinical and pathologic phenotypes of GRN mutation carriers with the pathogenic A9D (g.26C>A) missense mutation.
Three patients with GRN A9D mutations were evaluated clinically and came to autopsy with subsequent neuropathologic examination.
The clinical diagnoses of patients with GRN A9D mutations were amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, atypical extrapyramidal disorder, and behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia. Immunohistochemistry for TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) revealed variability in morphology and distribution of pathology. One patient had notable involvement of motor neurons in the spinal cord as well as type B TDP-43, whereas 2 other patients had type A TDP-43.
The clinical presentation of the GRN A9D missense mutation is not restricted to behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia and may include aphasia, extrapyramidal features, and, notably, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
To identify potential genetic modifiers contributing to the phenotypic variability that is detected in patients with repeat expansions in chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72), we investigated the frequency of these expansions in a cohort of 334 subjects previously found to carry mutations in genes known to be associated with a spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases.
A 2-step protocol, with a fluorescent PCR and a repeat-primed PCR, was used to determine the presence of hexanucleotide expansions in C9ORF72. For one double mutant, we performed Southern blots to assess expansion sizes, and immunohistochemistry to characterize neuropathology.
We detected C9ORF72 repeat expansions in 4 of 334 subjects (1.2% [or 1.8% of 217 families]). All these subjects had behavioral phenotypes and also harbored well-known pathogenic mutations in either progranulin (GRN: p.C466LfsX46, p.R493X, p.C31LfsX35) or microtubule-associated protein tau (MAPT: p.P301L). Southern blotting of one double mutant with a p.C466LfsX46 GRN mutation demonstrated a long repeat expansion in brain (>3,000 repeats), and immunohistochemistry showed mixed neuropathology with characteristics of both C9ORF72 expansions and GRN mutations.
Our findings indicate that co-occurrence of 2 evidently pathogenic mutations could contribute to the pleiotropy that is detected in patients with C9ORF72 repeat expansions. These findings suggest that patients with known mutations should not be excluded from further studies, and that genetic counselors should be aware of this phenomenon when advising patients and their family members.
Mutations of the TARDBP gene encoding TDP-43 protein have been shown to cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and have been reported to present with clinical heterogeneity including parkinsonism. In addition, TDP-43 pathology has been observed across a spectrum of neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Herein we report the presence of a TDP-43 mutation in a patient with a clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. The TDP-43 p.N267S substitution has been previously implicated in both amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia. Our findings widen the phenotypic presentation for the TDP-43 p.N267S substitution and support a possible role for rare TDP-43 mutations presenting with Parkinson’s disease.
TDP-43; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease
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.
An expanded GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat in C9ORF72 is the most common genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration associated with TDP-43 pathology (FTLD-TDP). In addition to TDP-43-positive neuronal and glial inclusions, C9ORF72-linked FTLD-TDP has characteristic TDP-43-negative neuronal cytoplasmic and intranuclear inclusions as well as dystrophic neurites in the hippocampus and cerebellum. These lesions are immunopositive for ubiquitin and ubiquitin-binding proteins, such as sequestosome-1/p62 and ubiquilin-2. Studies examining the frequency of the C9ORF72 mutation in clinically probable Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have found a small proportion of AD cases with the mutation. This prompted us to systematically explore the frequency of Alzheimer type pathology in a series of 17 FTLD-TDP cases with mutations in C9ORF72 (FTLD-C9ORF72). We identified 4 cases with sufficient Alzheimer type pathology to meet criteria for intermediate-to-high likelihood AD. We compared AD pathology in the 17 FTLD-C9ORF72 to 13 cases of FTLD-TDP linked to mutations in the gene for progranulin (FTLD-GRN) and 36 cases of sporadic FTLD (sFTLD). FTLD-C9ORF72 cases had higher Braak neurofibrillary tangle stage than FTLD-GRN. Increased tau pathology in FTLD-C9ORF72 was assessed with thioflavin-S fluorescent microscopy-based neurofibrillary tangle counts and with image analysis of tau burden in temporal cortex and hippocampus. FTLD-C9ORF72 had significantly more neurofibrillary tangles and higher tau burden compared with FTLD-GRN. The differences were most marked in limbic regions. On the other hand, sFTLD and FTLD-C9ORF72 had a similar burden of tau pathology. These results suggest FTLD-C9ORF72 has increased propensity for tau pathology compared to FTLD-GRN, but not sFTLD. The accumulation of tau as well as lesions immunoreactive for ubiquitin and ubiquitin binding proteins (p62 and ubiquilin-2) suggests that mutations in C9ORF72 may involve disrupted protein degradation that favors accumulation of multiple different proteins.
frontotemporal lobar degeneration; C9ORF72; ubiquitin; p62; ubiquilin-2; tau
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
Individuals carrying (GGGGCC) expanded repeats in the C9orf72 gene represent a significant portion of patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Elucidating how these expanded repeats cause “c9FTD/ALS” has since become an important goal of the field. Toward this end, we sought to investigate whether epigenetic changes are responsible for the decrease in C9orf72 expression levels observed in c9FTD/ALS patients. We obtained brain tissue from ten c9FTD/ALS individuals, nine FTD/ALS cases without a C9orf72 repeat expansion, and nine disease control participants, and generated fibroblastoid cell lines from seven C9orf72 expanded repeat carriers and seven participants carrying normal alleles. Chromatin immunoprecipitation using antibodies for histone H3 and H4 trimethylated at lysines 9 (H3K9), 27 (H3K27), 79 (H3K79), and 20 (H4K20) revealed that these trimethylated residues bind strongly to C9orf72 expanded repeats in brain tissue, but not to non-pathogenic repeats. Our finding that C9orf72 mRNA levels are reduced in the frontal cortices and cerebella of c9FTD/ALS patients is consistent with trimethylation of these histone residues, an event known to repress gene expression. Moreover, treating repeat carrier-derived fibroblasts with 5-aza-2-deoxycytidine, a DNA and histone demethylating agent, not only decreased C9orf72 binding to trimethylated histone residues, but also increased C9orf72 mRNA expression. Our results provide compelling evidence that trimethylation of lysine residues within histones H3 and H4 is a novel mechanism involved in reducing C9orf72 mRNA expression in expanded repeat carriers. Of importance, we show that mutant C9orf72 binding to trimethylated H3K9 and H3K27 is detectable in blood of c9FTD/ALS patients. Confirming these exciting results using blood from a larger cohort of patients may establish this novel epigenetic event as a biomarker for c9FTD/ALS.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00401-013-1199-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Frontotemporal dementia; C9orf72; Epigenetic modification; Repeat expansion; Histone methylation