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PLoS Genet. 2009 Mar;5(3):e1000399. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000399. Epub 2009 Mar 6.

Destabilizing protein polymorphisms in the genetic background direct phenotypic expression of mutant SOD1 toxicity.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology, Rice Institute for Biomedical Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States of America.

Abstract

Genetic background exerts a strong modulatory effect on the toxicity of aggregation-prone proteins in conformational diseases. In addition to influencing the misfolding and aggregation behavior of the mutant proteins, polymorphisms in putative modifier genes may affect the molecular processes leading to the disease phenotype. Mutations in SOD1 in a subset of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases confer dominant but clinically variable toxicity, thought to be mediated by misfolding and aggregation of mutant SOD1 protein. While the mechanism of toxicity remains unknown, both the nature of the SOD1 mutation and the genetic background in which it is expressed appear important. To address this, we established a Caenorhabditis elegans model to systematically examine the aggregation behavior and genetic interactions of mutant forms of SOD1. Expression of three structurally distinct SOD1 mutants in C. elegans muscle cells resulted in the appearance of heterogeneous populations of aggregates and was associated with only mild cellular dysfunction. However, introduction of destabilizing temperature-sensitive mutations into the genetic background strongly enhanced the toxicity of SOD1 mutants, resulting in exposure of several deleterious phenotypes at permissive conditions in a manner dependent on the specific SOD1 mutation. The nature of the observed phenotype was dependent on the temperature-sensitive mutation present, while its penetrance reflected the specific combination of temperature-sensitive and SOD1 mutations. Thus, the specific toxic phenotypes of conformational disease may not be simply due to misfolding/aggregation toxicity of the causative mutant proteins, but may be defined by their genetic interactions with cellular pathways harboring mildly destabilizing missense alleles.

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