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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Dec 27;108(52):20881-90. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1109434108. Epub 2011 Nov 7.

A yeast functional screen predicts new candidate ALS disease genes.

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  • 1Departments of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a devastating and universally fatal neurodegenerative disease. Mutations in two related RNA-binding proteins, TDP-43 and FUS, that harbor prion-like domains, cause some forms of ALS. There are at least 213 human proteins harboring RNA recognition motifs, including FUS and TDP-43, raising the possibility that additional RNA-binding proteins might contribute to ALS pathogenesis. We performed a systematic survey of these proteins to find additional candidates similar to TDP-43 and FUS, followed by bioinformatics to predict prion-like domains in a subset of them. We sequenced one of these genes, TAF15, in patients with ALS and identified missense variants, which were absent in a large number of healthy controls. These disease-associated variants of TAF15 caused formation of cytoplasmic foci when expressed in primary cultures of spinal cord neurons. Very similar to TDP-43 and FUS, TAF15 aggregated in vitro and conferred neurodegeneration in Drosophila, with the ALS-linked variants having a more severe effect than wild type. Immunohistochemistry of postmortem spinal cord tissue revealed mislocalization of TAF15 in motor neurons of patients with ALS. We propose that aggregation-prone RNA-binding proteins might contribute very broadly to ALS pathogenesis and the genes identified in our yeast functional screen, coupled with prion-like domain prediction analysis, now provide a powerful resource to facilitate ALS disease gene discovery.

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