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Concept: Frontotemporal dementia


Elevated expression of specific transposable elements (TEs) has been observed in several neurodegenerative disorders. TEs also can be active during normal neurogenesis. By mining a series of deep sequencing datasets of protein-RNA interactions and of gene expression profiles, we uncovered extensive binding of TE transcripts to TDP-43, an RNA-binding protein central to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). Second, we find that association between TDP-43 and many of its TE targets is reduced in FTLD patients. Third, we discovered that a large fraction of the TEs to which TDP-43 binds become de-repressed in mouse TDP-43 disease models. We propose the hypothesis that TE mis-regulation contributes to TDP-43 related neurodegenerative diseases.

Concepts: Gene, Evolution, Molecular biology, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Neurodegenerative disorders, Frontotemporal dementia, Frontotemporal lobar degeneration


A GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat expansion in the C9orf72 gene is the most common genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia (C9ALS/FTD). C9orf72 encodes two C9orf72 protein isoforms of unclear function. Reduced levels of C9orf72 expression have been reported in C9ALS/FTD patients, and although C9orf72 haploinsufficiency has been proposed to contribute to C9ALS/FTD, its significance is not yet clear. Here, we report that C9orf72 interacts with Rab1a and the Unc-51-like kinase 1 (ULK1) autophagy initiation complex. As a Rab1a effector, C9orf72 controls initiation of autophagy by regulating the Rab1a-dependent trafficking of the ULK1 autophagy initiation complex to the phagophore. Accordingly, reduction of C9orf72 expression in cell lines and primary neurons attenuated autophagy and caused accumulation of p62-positive puncta reminiscent of the p62 pathology observed in C9ALS/FTD patients. Finally, basal levels of autophagy were markedly reduced in C9ALS/FTD patient-derived iNeurons. Thus, our data identify C9orf72 as a novel Rab1a effector in the regulation of autophagy and indicate that C9orf72 haploinsufficiency and associated reductions in autophagy might be the underlying cause of C9ALS/FTD-associated p62 pathology.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Molecular biology, Enzyme, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Regulation, Frontotemporal dementia


Over 30% of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) exhibit cognitive deficits indicative of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), suggesting a common pathogenesis for both diseases. Consistent with this hypothesis, neuronal and glial inclusions rich in TDP43, an essential RNA-binding protein, are found in the majority of those with ALS and FTD, and mutations in TDP43 and a related RNA-binding protein, FUS, cause familial ALS and FTD. TDP43 and FUS affect the splicing of thousands of transcripts, in some cases triggering nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD), a highly conserved RNA degradation pathway. Here, we take advantage of a faithful primary neuronal model of ALS and FTD to investigate and characterize the role of human up-frameshift protein 1 (hUPF1), an RNA helicase and master regulator of NMD, in these disorders. We show that hUPF1 significantly protects mammalian neurons from both TDP43- and FUS-related toxicity. Expression of hUPF2, another essential component of NMD, also improves survival, whereas inhibiting NMD prevents rescue by hUPF1, suggesting that hUPF1 acts through NMD to enhance survival. These studies emphasize the importance of RNA metabolism in ALS and FTD, and identify a uniquely effective therapeutic strategy for these disorders.

Concepts: DNA, Transcription, RNA, Messenger RNA, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Frontotemporal dementia, Frontotemporal lobar degeneration, FUS


Frontotemporal lobar degeneration with ubiquitin-positive inclusions (FTLD-U) is one of the most common pathological findings associated with the clinical FTLD syndromes. However, molecular characterization with genetic sequencing and protein expression techniques are recognizing many new subtypes for FTLDs. FTLDs are diverse and new nomenclature schemes have been proposed based on the molecular defects that are being discovered ( Mackenzie et al., 2010 , Acta Neuropathologica, 119, 1). Adult polyglucosan body disease (APBD) is a very rare disorder associated with systemic neurological signs and symptoms including progressive dementia with executive dysfunction and motor neuron disease. We report the clinical course of an individual with a clinical FTLD and the as yet unreported findings of coexistent APBD with FTLD-U and transactivation response DNA-binding protein-43 (TDP-43)-positive inclusions at autopsy (or more accurately, FTLD-TDP). It is unclear if these distinct findings are coincidental in this individual, or if pathogenic pathways may intersect to promote these coexisting pathologies.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Pathology, Anatomical pathology, Symptom, Dementia, Frontotemporal dementia, Motor neuron, Frontotemporal lobar degeneration


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.

Concepts: Gene, DNA repair, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Frontotemporal dementia, Lou Gehrig, Xeroderma pigmentosum, Sequestration, Sequestering


The terms frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) indicate a large set of neurodegenerative diseases, heterogeneous in their genetic, pathologic and clinical aspects.

Concepts: Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration, Neurodegenerative disorders, Frontotemporal dementia, Frontotemporal lobar degeneration, Neurodegenerative diseases


Hexanucleotide repeat expansions in C9orf72 are the most common cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) (c9ALS/FTD). Unconventional translation of these repeats produces dipeptide repeat proteins (DPRs) that may cause neurodegeneration. We performed a modifier screen in Drosophila and discovered a critical role for importins and exportins, Ran-GTP cycle regulators, nuclear pore components, and arginine methylases in mediating DPR toxicity. These findings provide evidence for an important role for nucleocytoplasmic transport in the pathogenic mechanism of c9ALS/FTD.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Frontotemporal dementia, Lou Gehrig


An expanded GGGGCC repeat in a non-coding region of the C9orf72 gene is a common cause of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Non-coding repeat expansions may cause disease by reducing the expression level of the gene they reside in, by producing toxic aggregates of repeat RNA termed RNA foci, or by producing toxic proteins generated by repeat-associated non-ATG translation. We present the first definitive report of C9orf72 repeat sense and antisense RNA foci using a series of C9FTLD cases, and neurodegenerative disease and normal controls. A sensitive and specific fluorescence in situ hybridisation protocol was combined with protein immunostaining to show that both sense and antisense foci were frequent, specific to C9FTLD, and present in neurons of the frontal cortex, hippocampus and cerebellum. High-resolution imaging also allowed accurate analyses of foci number and subcellular localisation. RNA foci were most abundant in the frontal cortex, where 51 % of neurons contained foci. RNA foci also occurred in astrocytes, microglia and oligodendrocytes but to a lesser degree than in neurons. RNA foci were observed in both TDP-43- and p62-inclusion bearing neurons, but not at a greater frequency than expected by chance. RNA foci abundance in the frontal cortex showed a significant inverse correlation with age at onset of disease. These data establish that sense and antisense C9orf72 repeat RNA foci are a consistent and specific feature of C9FTLD, providing new insight into the pathogenesis of C9FTLD.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Molecular biology, RNA, Cerebral cortex, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Frontotemporal dementia, Frontotemporal lobar degeneration


The discovery of C9orf72 mutations as the most common genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) has awakened a surge of interest in deciphering how mutations in this mysterious gene cause disease and what can be done to stop it. C9orf72 harbors a hexanucleotide repeat, GGGGCC, in a non-coding region of the gene and a massive expansion of this repeat causes ALS, FTD, or both (FTD/ALS). Many questions lie ahead. What does this gene normally do? What is the consequence of an enormous GGGGCC repeat expansion on that gene’s function? Could that hexanucleotide repeat expansion have additional pathological actions unrelated to C9orf72 function? There has been tremendous progress on all fronts in the quest to define how C9orf72 mutations cause disease. Many new experimental models have been constructed and unleashed in powerful genetic screens. Studies in mouse and human patient samples, including iPS-derived neurons, have provided unprecedented insights into pathogenic mechanisms. Three major hypotheses have emerged and are still being hotly debated in the field. These include 1) loss of function owing to decrease in the abundance of C9orf72 protein and its ability to carryout its still unknown cellular role; 2) RNA toxicity from bidirectionally transcribed sense (GGGGCC) and antisense (GGCCCC) transcripts that accumulate in RNA foci and might sequester critical RNA-binding proteins; 3) proteotoxicity from dipeptide repeat proteins produced by an unconventional form of translation from the expanded nucleotide repeats. Here we review the evidence in favor and against each of these three hypotheses. We also suggest additional experiments and considerations that we propose will help clarify which mechanism(s) are most important for driving disease and therefore most critical for considering during the development of therapeutic interventions.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, RNA, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Experiment, Frontotemporal dementia


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) are two incurable neurodegenerative disorders that exist on a symptomological spectrum and share both genetic underpinnings and pathophysiological hallmarks. Functional abnormality of TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43), an aggregation-prone RNA and DNA binding protein, is observed in the vast majority of both familial and sporadic ALS cases and in ~40% of FTLD cases, but the cascade of events leading to cell death are not understood. We have expressed human TDP-43 (hTDP-43) in Drosophila neurons and glia, a model that recapitulates many of the characteristics of TDP-43-linked human disease including protein aggregation pathology, locomotor impairment, and premature death. We report that such expression of hTDP-43 impairs small interfering RNA (siRNA) silencing, which is the major post-transcriptional mechanism of retrotransposable element (RTE) control in somatic tissue. This is accompanied by de-repression of a panel of both LINE and LTR families of RTEs, with somewhat different elements being active in response to hTDP-43 expression in glia versus neurons. hTDP-43 expression in glia causes an early and severe loss of control of a specific RTE, the endogenous retrovirus (ERV) gypsy. We demonstrate that gypsy causes the degenerative phenotypes in these flies because we are able to rescue the toxicity of glial hTDP-43 either by genetically blocking expression of this RTE or by pharmacologically inhibiting RTE reverse transcriptase activity. Moreover, we provide evidence that activation of DNA damage-mediated programmed cell death underlies both neuronal and glial hTDP-43 toxicity, consistent with RTE-mediated effects in both cell types. Our findings suggest a novel mechanism in which RTE activity contributes to neurodegeneration in TDP-43-mediated diseases such as ALS and FTLD.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Cell, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Neurodegenerative disorders, Frontotemporal dementia