Our objective was to identify whether rare genetic variation in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) candidate survival genes modifies ALS survival. Candidate genes were selected based on evidence for modifying ALS survival. Each tail of the extreme 1.5% of survival was selected from the UK MND DNA Bank and all samples available underwent whole genome sequencing. A replication set from the Netherlands was used for validation. Sequences of candidate survival genes were extracted and variants passing quality control with a minor allele frequency ≤0.05 were selected for association testing. Analysis was by burden testing using SKAT.
Candidate survival genes UNC13A, KIFAP3, and EPHA4 were tested for association in a UK sample comprising 25 short survivors and 25 long survivors. Results showed that only SNVs in UNC13A were associated with survival (p = 6.57 × 10−3). SNV rs10419420:G > A was found exclusively in long survivors (3/25) and rs4808092:G > A exclusively in short survivors (4/25). These findings were not replicated in a Dutch sample. In conclusion, population specific rare variants of UNC13A may modulate survival in ALS.
ALS; survival; UNC13A; genetic modifiers; sequencing
An intronic GGGGCC-repeat expansion of C9ORF72 is the most common genetic variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia. The mechanism of neurodegeneration is unknown, but a direct effect on RNA processing mediated by RNA foci transcribed from the repeat sequence has been proposed.
Gene expression profiling utilised total RNA extracted from motor neurons and lymphoblastoid cell lines derived from human ALS patients, including those with an expansion of C9ORF72, and controls. In lymphoblastoid cell lines, expansion length and the frequency of sense and antisense RNA foci was also examined.
Gene level analysis revealed a number of differentially expressed networks and both cell types exhibited dysregulation of a network functionally enriched for genes encoding ‘RNA splicing’ proteins. There was a significant overlap of these genes with an independently generated list of GGGGCC-repeat protein binding partners. At the exon level, in lymphoblastoid cells derived from C9ORF72-ALS patients splicing consistency was lower than in lines derived from non-C9ORF72 ALS patients or controls; furthermore splicing consistency was lower in samples derived from patients with faster disease progression. Frequency of sense RNA foci showed a trend towards being higher in lymphoblastoid cells derived from patients with shorter survival, but there was no detectable correlation between disease severity and DNA expansion length.
Up-regulation of genes encoding predicted binding partners of the C9ORF72 expansion is consistent with an attempted compensation for sequestration of these proteins. A number of studies have analysed changes in the transcriptome caused by C9ORF72 expansion, but to date findings have been inconsistent. As a potential explanation we suggest that dynamic sequestration of RNA processing proteins by RNA foci might lead to a loss of splicing consistency; indeed in our samples measurement of splicing consistency correlates with disease severity.
GGGGCC repeat expansions of C9ORF72 represent the most common genetic variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia. We and others have proposed that RNA transcribed from the repeat sequence is toxic via sequestration of RNA-binding factors. Both GGGGCC-repeat (sense) and CCCCGG-repeat (antisense) molecules are detectable by fluorescence in situ hybridisation as RNA foci, but their relative expression pattern within the CNS and contribution to disease has not been determined. Blinded examination of CNS biosamples from ALS patients with a repeat expansion of C9ORF72 showed that antisense foci are present at a significantly higher frequency in cerebellar Purkinje neurons and motor neurons, whereas sense foci are present at a significantly higher frequency in cerebellar granule neurons. Consistent with this, inclusions containing sense or antisense derived dipeptide repeat proteins were present at significantly higher frequency in cerebellar granule neurons or motor neurons, respectively. Immunohistochemistry and UV-crosslinking studies showed that sense and antisense RNA molecules share similar interactions with SRSF2, hnRNP K, hnRNP A1, ALYREF, and hnRNP H/F. Together these data suggest that, although sense and antisense RNA molecules might be expected to be equally toxic via their shared protein binding partners, distinct patterns of expression in various CNS neuronal populations could lead to relative differences in their contribution to the pathogenesis of neuronal injury. Moreover in motor neurons, which are the primary target of pathology in ALS, the presence of antisense foci (χ2, p < 0.00001) but not sense foci (χ2, p = 0.75) correlated with mislocalisation of TDP-43, which is the hallmark of ALS neurodegeneration. This has implications for translational approaches to C9ORF72 disease, and furthermore interacting RNA-processing factors and transcriptional activators responsible for antisense versus sense transcription might represent novel therapeutic targets.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00401-015-1429-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
C9ORF72; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; RNA foci; Dipeptide repeat protein; Immunohistochemistry
The discovery that a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9orf72 is the most numerous genetic variant of both amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia has opened a rapidly growing field, which may provide long hoped for advances in the understanding and treatment of these devastating diseases. In this review we describe the various phenotypes, clinical and pathological, associated with expansion of C9orf72, which go beyond amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia to include neurodegeneration more broadly. Next we take a step back and summarize the current understanding of the C9orf72 expansion and its protein products at a molecular level. Three mechanisms are prominent: toxicity mediated directly by RNA transcribed from the repeat; toxicity mediated by dipeptide repeat proteins translated from the repeat sequence; and haploinsufficiency resulting from reduced transcription of the C9orf72 exonic sequence. A series of exciting advances have recently described how dipeptide repeat proteins might interfere with the normal role of the nucleolus in maturation of RNA binding proteins and in production of ribosomes. Importantly, these mechanisms are unlikely to be mutually exclusive. We draw attention to the fact that clinical and pathological similarities to other genetic variants without a repeat expansion must not be overlooked in ascribing a pathogenic mechanism to C9orf72-disease. Finally, with a view to impact on patient care, we discuss current practice with respect to genetic screening in patients with and without a family history of disease, and the most promising developments towards therapy that have been reported to date.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0342-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Frontotemporal dementia; C9orf72; RNA foci; Dipeptide repeat proteins; Antisense oligonucleotides
Astrocytes are key players in the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Previously, gene expression profiling of astrocytes from the pre-symptomatic stage of the SOD1G93A model of ALS has revealed reduced lactate metabolism and altered trophic support. Here, we have performed microarray analysis of symptomatic and late-stage disease astrocytes isolated by laser capture microdissection (LCM) from the lumbar spinal cord of the SOD1G93A mouse to complete the picture of astrocyte behavior throughout the disease course. Astrocytes at symptomatic and late-stage disease show a distinct up-regulation of transcripts defining a reactive phenotype, such as those involved in the lysosome and phagocytic pathways. Functional analysis of hexosaminidase B enzyme activity in the spinal cord and of astrocyte phagocytic ability has demonstrated a significant increase in lysosomal enzyme activity and phagocytic activity in SOD1G93A vs. littermate controls, validating the findings of the microarray study. In addition to the increased reactivity seen at both stages, astrocytes from late-stage disease showed decreased expression of many transcripts involved in cholesterol homeostasis. Staining for the master regulator of cholesterol synthesis, SREBP2, has revealed an increased localization to the cytoplasm of astrocytes and motor neurons in late-stage SOD1G93A spinal cord, indicating that down-regulation of transcripts may be due to an excess of cholesterol in the CNS during late-stage disease possibly due to phagocytosis of neuronal debris. Our data reveal that SOD1G93A astrocytes are characterized more by a loss of supportive function than a toxic phenotype during ALS disease progression and future studies should focus upon restorative therapies.
microarray; superoxide dismutase 1; cholesterol/steroid; neurodegeneration; motor neuron
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
Discovery of intronic hexanucleotide repeat expansions of the C9ORF72 gene in a significant proportion of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD)1,2 was an important step for research into these disorders. The C9ORF72 genetic variant is more common than other described mutations and, unlike patients with mutations in SOD1, C9ORF72-ALS clinically and pathologically resembles the more numerous sporadic form.3 However, progress has been limited by lack of understanding of the function of the C9ORF72 locus in health and disease. It is unknown whether the expansion causes disease by a gain of toxicity, or whether it disrupts expression of the wild-type protein encoded by the C9ORF72 gene, or some combination of both mechanisms.1,2,4
To determine the histopathologic bases for the observed incidence of parkinsonism in families with C9ORF72 expansions, which typically cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and/or frontotemporal dementia.
DNA was extracted from 377 brains with the histopathologic diagnosis of idiopathic Parkinson disease or related disorders and analyzed for C9ORF72 expansions. α-Synuclein and p62 immunohistochemistry of the substantia nigra (SN) was undertaken in brains of 17 ALS cases with (C9ORF72+) and 51 without (C9ORF72−) the C9ORF72 expansion.
Only 1 of 338 cases with pathologically confirmed idiopathic Parkinson disease had a C9ORF72 expansion. Similarly, only 1 of 17 C9ORF72+ brains displayed features suggestive of α-synucleinopathy. In contrast, p62-positive, TDP-43–negative neuronal cytoplasmic inclusions within the SN were considerably more frequent in C9ORF72+ brain tissue than in the C9ORF72− brains (p = 0.005). Furthermore, there was a more marked loss of dopaminergic neurons in the SN of C9ORF72+ ALS brains than C9ORF72− ALS brains (p = 0.029).
SN involvement is common in C9ORF72+ ALS but can be clearly distinguished from Parkinson disease–related mechanisms by the presence of p62-positive inclusions and the absence of α-synuclein–positive Lewy bodies or Lewy neurites.
The GGGGCC (G4C2) repeat expansion in C9ORF72 is the most common cause of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTLD) and ALS–FTLD, as well as contributing to sporadic forms of these diseases. Screening of large cohorts of ALS and FTLD cohorts has identified that C9ORF72-ALS is represented throughout the clinical spectrum of ALS phenotypes, though in comparison with other genetic subtypes, C9ORF72 carriers have a higher incidence of bulbar onset disease. In contrast, C9ORF72-FTLD is predominantly associated with behavioural variant FTD, which often presents with psychosis, most commonly in the form of hallucinations and delusions. However, C9ORF72 expansions are not restricted to these clinical phenotypes. There is a higher than expected incidence of parkinsonism in ALS patients with C9ORF72 expansions, and the G4C2 repeat has also been reported in other motor phenotypes, such as primary lateral sclerosis, progressive muscular atrophy, corticobasal syndrome and Huntington-like disorders. In addition, the expansion has been identified in non-motor phenotypes including Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia. It is not currently understood what is the basis of the clinical variation seen with the G4C2 repeat expansion. One potential explanation is repeat length. Sizing of the expansion by Southern blotting has established that there is somatic heterogeneity, with different expansion lengths in different tissues, even within the brain. To date, no correlation with expansion size and clinical phenotype has been established in ALS, whilst in FTLD only repeat size in the cerebellum was found to correlate with disease duration. Somatic heterogeneity suggests there is a degree of instability within the repeat and evidence of anticipation has been reported with reducing age of onset in subsequent generations. This variability/instability in expansion length, along with its interactions with environmental and genetic modifiers, such as TMEM106B, may be the basis of the differing clinical phenotypes arising from the mutation.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Frontotemporal lobar dementia; C9ORF72; G4C2 expansion; Phenotypic variation; Genetic modifiers
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that causes death within a mean of 2–3 years from symptom onset. There is no diagnostic test and the delay from symptom onset to diagnosis averages 12 months. The identification of prognostic and diagnostic biomarkers in ALS would facilitate earlier diagnosis and faster monitoring of treatments. Gene expression profiling (GEP) can help to identify these markers as well as therapeutic targets in neurological diseases. One source of genetic material for GEP in ALS is peripheral blood, which is routinely accessed from patients. However, a high proportion of globin mRNA in blood can mask important genetic information. A number of methods allow safe collection, storage and transport of blood as well as RNA stabilisation, including the PAXGENE and TEMPUS systems for the collection of whole blood and LEUKOLOCK which enriches for the leukocyte population. Here we compared these three systems and assess their suitability for GEP in ALS. We collected blood from 8 sporadic ALS patients and 7 controls. PAXGENE and TEMPUS RNA extracted samples additionally underwent globin depletion using GlobinClear. RNA was amplified and hybridised onto Affymetrix U133 Plus 2.0 arrays. Lists of genes differentially regulated in ALS patients and controls were created for each method using the R package PUMA, and RT-PCR validation was carried out on selected genes. TEMPUS/GlobinClear, and LEUKOLOCK produced high quality RNA with sufficient yield, and consistent array expression profiles. PAXGENE/GlobinClear yield and quality were lower. Globin depletion for PAXGENE and TEMPUS uncovered the presence of over 60% more transcripts than when samples were not depleted. TEMPUS/GlobinClear and LEUKOLOCK gene lists respectively contained 3619 and 3047 genes differentially expressed between patients and controls. Real-time PCR validation revealed similar reliability between these two methods and gene ontology analyses revealed similar pathways differentially regulated in disease compared to controls.
A massive hexanucleotide repeat expansion mutation (HREM) in C9ORF72 has recently been linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Here we describe the frequency, origin and stability of this mutation in ALS+/−FTD from five European cohorts (total n=1347). Single-nucleotide polymorphisms defining the risk haplotype in linked kindreds were genotyped in cases (n=434) and controls (n=856). Haplotypes were analysed using PLINK and aged using DMLE+. In a London clinic cohort, the HREM was the most common mutation in familial ALS+/−FTD: C9ORF72 29/112 (26%), SOD1 27/112 (24%), TARDBP 1/112 (1%) and FUS 4/112 (4%) and detected in 13/216 (6%) of unselected sporadic ALS cases but was rare in controls (3/856, 0.3%). HREM prevalence was high for familial ALS+/−FTD throughout Europe: Belgium 19/22 (86%), Sweden 30/41 (73%), the Netherlands 10/27 (37%) and Italy 4/20 (20%). The HREM did not affect the age at onset or survival of ALS patients. Haplotype analysis identified a common founder in all 137 HREM carriers that arose around 6300 years ago. The haplotype from which the HREM arose is intrinsically unstable with an increased number of repeats (average 8, compared with 2 for controls, P<10−8). We conclude that the HREM has a single founder and is the most common mutation in familial and sporadic ALS in Europe.
ALS; common founder; C9ORF72
Compelling evidence indicates that oxidative stress contributes to motor neuron injury in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but antioxidant therapies have not yet achieved therapeutic benefit in the clinic. The nuclear erythroid 2-related-factor 2 (Nrf2) transcription factor is a key regulator of an important neuroprotective response by driving the expression of multiple cytoprotective genes via its interaction with the antioxidant response element (ARE). Dysregulation of the Nrf2-ARE system has been identified in ALS models and human disease. Taking the Nrf2-ARE pathway as an attractive therapeutic target for neuroprotection in ALS, we aimed to identify CNS penetrating, small molecule activators of Nrf2-mediated transcription in a library of 2000 drugs and natural products. Compounds were screened extensively for Nrf2 activation, and antioxidant and neuroprotective properties in vitro. S[+]-Apomorphine, a receptor-inactive enantiomer of the clinically approved dopamine-receptor agonist (R[–]-apomorphine), was identified as a nontoxic Nrf2 activating molecule. In vivo S[+]-apomorphine demonstrated CNS penetrance, Nrf2 induction, and significant attenuation of motor dysfunction in the SOD1G93A transgenic mouse model of ALS. S[+]-apomorphine also reduced pathological oxidative stress and improved survival following an oxidative insult in fibroblasts from ALS patients. This molecule emerges as a promising candidate for evaluation as a potential neuroprotective agent in ALS patients in the clinic.
ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; ARE, antioxidant response element; carboxy-H2DCFDA, 6-carboxy-2′,7′-dichlorodihydrofluorescein diacetate; CNS, central nervous system; DCF, dichlorofluorescein; MEFs, mouse embryonic fibroblasts; Nrf2, nuclear erythroid 2-related-factor 2; PBPK, physiologically based pharmacokinetic; Q-RTPCR, quantitative RT-PCR; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; motor neurone disease; Nrf2; preclinical pharmacology; neurodegeneration
Sizing of GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat expansions within the C9ORF72 locus, which account for approximately 10% of all amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases, is urgently required to answer fundamental questions about mechanisms of pathogenesis in this important genetic variant. Currently employed PCR protocols are limited to discrimination between the presence and absence of a modified allele with more than 30 copies of the repeat, while Southern hybridisation-based methods are confounded by the somatic heterogeneity commonly present in blood samples, which might cause false-negative or ambiguous results.
We describe an optimised Southern hybridisation-based protocol that allows confident detection of the presence of a C9ORF72 repeat expansion alongside independent assessment of its heterogeneity and the number of repeat units. The protocol can be used with either a radiolabeled or non-radiolabeled probe. Using this method we have successfully sized the C9ORF72 repeat expansion in lymphoblastoid cells, peripheral blood, and post-mortem central nervous system (CNS) tissue from ALS patients. It was also possible to confidently demonstrate the presence of repeat expansion, although of different magnitude, in both C9ORF72 alleles of the genome of one patient.
The suggested protocol has sufficient advantages to warrant adoption as a standard for Southern blot hybridisation analysis of GGGGCC repeat expansions in the C9ORF72 locus.
C9ORF72; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Southern hybridisation
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.
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
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small, abundant RNA molecules that constitute part of the cell's non-coding RNA “dark matter.” In recent years, the discovery of miRNAs has revolutionised the traditional view of gene expression and our understanding of miRNA biogenesis and function has expanded. Altered expression of miRNAs is increasingly recognized as a feature of many disease states, including neurodegeneration. Here, we review the emerging role for miRNA dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington's disease pathogenesis. We emphasize the complex nature of gene regulatory networks and the need for systematic studies, with larger sample cohorts than have so far been reported, to reveal the most important miRNA regulators in disease. Finally, miRNA diversity and their potential to target multiple pathways, offers novel clinical applications for miRNAs as biomarkers and therapeutic agents in neurodegenerative diseases.
microRNA; neurodegeneration; Alzheimer's disease; Parkinson's disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Huntington's disease
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a motor neuron disease characterized by degeneration and loss of upper and lower motor neurons from the motor cortex, brainstem and spinal cord although evidence is suggesting that there is further involvement of other cell types in the surrounding tissue. Transcriptomic analysis by gene expression profiling using microarray technology has enabled the determination of patterns of cell death in the degenerating tissues. This work has examined gene expression at the level of the tissue and individual cell types in both sporadic and familial forms of the disease. In addition, further studies have examined the differential vulnerability of neuronal cells in different regions of the central nervous system. Model systems have also provided further information to help unravel the mechanisms that lead to death of the motor neurons in disease and also provided novel insights. In this review we shall describe the methods that have been used in these investigations and describe how they have contributed to our knowledge of the cell death mechanisms in ALS.
transcriptomics; cell death; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; microarray
A consistent clinical feature of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the sparing of eye movements and the function of external sphincters, with corresponding preservation of motor neurons in the brainstem oculomotor nuclei, and of Onuf’s nucleus in the sacral spinal cord. Studying the differences in properties of neurons that are vulnerable and resistant to the disease process in ALS may provide insights into the mechanisms of neuronal degeneration, and identify targets for therapeutic manipulation. We used microarray analysis to determine the differences in gene expression between oculomotor and spinal motor neurons, isolated by laser capture microdissection from the midbrain and spinal cord of neurologically normal human controls. We compared these to transcriptional profiles of oculomotor nuclei and spinal cord from rat and mouse, obtained from the GEO omnibus database. We show that oculomotor neurons have a distinct transcriptional profile, with significant differential expression of 1,757 named genes (q < 0.001). Differentially expressed genes are enriched for the functional categories of synaptic transmission, ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis, mitochondrial function, transcriptional regulation, immune system functions, and the extracellular matrix. Marked differences are seen, across the three species, in genes with a function in synaptic transmission, including several glutamate and GABA receptor subunits. Using patch clamp recording in acute spinal and brainstem slices, we show that resistant oculomotor neurons show a reduced AMPA-mediated inward calcium current, and a higher GABA-mediated chloride current, than vulnerable spinal motor neurons. The findings suggest that reduced susceptibility to excitotoxicity, mediated in part through enhanced GABAergic transmission, is an important determinant of the relative resistance of oculomotor neurons to degeneration in ALS.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00401-012-1058-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease in which death of motoneurons leads to progressive failure of the neuromuscular system resulting in death frequently within 2–3 years of symptom onset. Focal onset and propagation of the disease symptoms to contiguous motoneuron groups is a striking feature of the human disease progression. Recent work, using mutant superoxide dismutase 1 murine models and in vitro culture systems has indicated that astrocytes are likely to contribute to the propagation of motoneuron injury and disease progression. However, the basis of this astrocyte toxicity and/or failure of motoneuron support has remained uncertain. Using a combination of in vivo and in vitro model systems of superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, linked back to human biosamples, we set out to elucidate how astrocyte properties change in the presence of mutant superoxide dismutase 1 to contribute to motoneuron injury. Gene expression profiling of spinal cord astrocytes from presymptomatic transgenic mice expressing mutant superoxide dismutase 1 revealed two striking changes. First, there was evidence of metabolic dysregulation and, in particular, impairment of the astrocyte lactate efflux transporter, with resultant decrease of spinal cord lactate levels. Second, there was evidence of increased nerve growth factor production and dysregulation of the ratio of pro-nerve growth factor to mature nerve growth factor, favouring p75 receptor expression and activation by neighbouring motoneurons. Functional in vitro studies showed that astrocytes expressing mutant superoxide dismutase 1 are toxic to normal motoneurons. We provide evidence that reduced metabolic support from lactate release and activation of pro-nerve growth factor-p75 receptor signalling are key components of this toxicity. Preservation of motoneuron viability could be achieved by increasing lactate provision to motoneurons, depletion of increased pro-nerve growth factor levels or p75 receptor blockade. These findings are likely to be relevant to human amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, where we have demonstrated increased levels of pro-nerve growth factor in cerebrospinal fluid and increased expression of the p75 receptor by spinal motoneurons. Taken together, these data confirm that altered properties of astrocytes are likely to play a crucial role in the propagation of motoneuron injury in superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and indicate that manipulation of the energy supply to motoneurons as well as inhibition of p75 receptor signalling may represent valuable neuroprotective strategies.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; astrocytes; microarray; lactate; nerve growth factor
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).
Gene expression profiling has been used previously with spinal cord homogenates and laser capture microdissected motor neurons to determine the mechanisms involved in neurodegeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. However, while cellular and animal model work has focused on superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the transcriptional profile of human mutant superoxide dismutase 1 motor neurons has remained undiscovered. The aim of this study was to apply gene expression profiling to laser captured motor neurons from human superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and neurologically normal control cases, in order to determine those pathways dysregulated in human superoxide dismutase 1-related neurodegeneration and to establish potential pathways suitable for therapeutic intervention. Identified targets were then validated in cultured cell models using lentiviral vectors to manipulate the expression of key genes. Microarray analysis identified 1170 differentially expressed genes in spinal cord motor neurons from superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, compared with controls. These genes encoded for proteins in multiple functional categories, including those involved in cell survival and cell death. Further analysis determined that multiple genes involved in the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase signalling cascade were differentially expressed in motor neurons that survived the disease process. Functional experiments in cultured cells and primary motor neurons demonstrate that manipulating this pathway by reducing the expression of a single upstream target, the negative phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase regulator phosphatase and tensin homology, promotes a marked pro-survival effect. Therefore, these data indicate that proteins in the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase pathway could represent a target for therapeutic manipulation in motor neuron degeneration.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; SOD1; PTEN; PI3K; AKT
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a common late-onset neurodegenerative disease, is associated with fronto-temporal dementia (FTD) in 3–10% of patients. A mutation in CHMP2B was recently identified in a Danish pedigree with autosomal dominant FTD. Subsequently, two unrelated patients with familial ALS, one of whom also showed features of FTD, were shown to carry missense mutations in CHMP2B. The initial aim of this study was to determine whether mutations in CHMP2B contribute more broadly to ALS pathogenesis.
Sequencing of CHMP2B in 433 ALS cases from the North of England identified 4 cases carrying 3 missense mutations, including one novel mutation, p.Thr104Asn, none of which were present in 500 neurologically normal controls. Analysis of clinical and neuropathological data of these 4 cases showed a phenotype consistent with the lower motor neuron predominant (progressive muscular atrophy (PMA)) variant of ALS. Only one had a recognised family history of ALS and none had clinically apparent dementia. Microarray analysis of motor neurons from CHMP2B cases, compared to controls, showed a distinct gene expression signature with significant differential expression predicting disassembly of cell structure; increased calcium concentration in the ER lumen; decrease in the availability of ATP; down-regulation of the classical and p38 MAPK signalling pathways, reduction in autophagy initiation and a global repression of translation. Transfection of mutant CHMP2B into HEK-293 and COS-7 cells resulted in the formation of large cytoplasmic vacuoles, aberrant lysosomal localisation demonstrated by CD63 staining and impairment of autophagy indicated by increased levels of LC3-II protein. These changes were absent in control cells transfected with wild-type CHMP2B.
We conclude that in a population drawn from North of England pathogenic CHMP2B mutations are found in approximately 1% of cases of ALS and 10% of those with lower motor neuron predominant ALS.
We provide a body of evidence indicating the likely pathogenicity of the reported gene alterations. However, absolute confirmation of pathogenicity requires further evidence, including documentation of familial transmission in ALS pedigrees which might be most fruitfully explored in cases with a LMN predominant phenotype.