Mutations in progranulin (GRN) represent one of the most common causes of familial frontotemporal lobar degeneration with TDP-43 inclusions (FTLD-TDP). Progranulin is involved in inflammatory cascades, but the exact pathogenic link between GRN mutations and FTLD-TDP is unknown. Most mutations result in premature termination codons (PTC) in one GRN allele and 50% reduction on peripheral progranulin protein levels. However, this progranulin haploinsufficiency alone may not account for brain pathology as 1) progranulin deficiency precedes neurological symptom onset by decades, and 2) genetically reducing progranulin levels to 50% in mice does not produce significant pathologic or behavioral changes. During our investigation for inflammatory alterations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from symptomatic GRN mutation carriers, we found different mutation groups to each lead to a cytokine profile. This led us to hypothesize that truncated mutant granulin peptides promote FTLD-TDP pathogenesis. Using sensitive RNA-Seq analysis, we confirmed that mutant GRN transcripts are detectable in brains at levels up to 20% of wildtype transcripts. We then used molecular modeling to design polyclonal antibodies targeting truncated R493X mutant progranulin peptide, and identified mutant progranulin dimers in brains and cultured fibroblasts of subjects carrying the same mutation. In the current application, we propose to extend our innovative findings in three aims by: 1) defining inflammatory phenotypes for GRN mutations predicted to result in short, intermediate, and long truncated mutant progranulin peptides; 2) confirming and characterizing mutant R493X peptides as dimers in carriers of this and other GRN mutations; and 3) directly testing whether mutant progranulin peptides derived from patient samples or plasmids can enhance the formation of TDP-43 oligomers. We will leverage the neurological, biochemical, neuropathological, and genetic expertise of the investigative team from Emory University and University of Pennsylvania, and resources from these two institutions as well as University of Brescia and the multi-centered Longitudinal Evaluation of Familial Frontotemporal Dementia Subjects (LEFFTDS). As an exploratory aim, we will also develop novel antibodies targeting two mutations predicted to result in intermediate-length progranulin peptides significantly shorter than R493X to generalize our findings. Upon completion of these aims, we will have performed clinical, pathological, and mechanistic analysis of the relationship between GRN mutations and FTLD-TDP to inform future therapeutic development and personalized diagnostics.

Public Health Relevance

Mutations in the gene for progranulin cause familial frontotemporal dementia, and progranulin may be protective against the development of Alzheimer?s disease. Understanding how abnormal progranulins influence the brain and the immune system will identify new therapeutic targets for familial frontotemporal dementia, and can further inform non-familial frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer?s disease, and other related illnesses.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Clinical Neuroscience and Neurodegeneration Study Section (CNN)
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Yang, Austin Jyan-Yu
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Emory University
Schools of Medicine
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