Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal paralytic disease characterized by neuromuscular junction (NMJ) denervation that precedes spinal motor neuron (MN) death and muscle weakness. We hypothesize that preventing denervation and stimulating reinnervation of NMJs will thwart muscle dysfunction and weakness in ALS, hence improving the patient's quality of life and, likely extending survival. Herein, we seek to demonstrate that protein prenylation, which was reported to operate as an endogenous brake on axonal growth, is a key determinant of ALS-related motor axon pathology. In support of this goal, our pilot work shows that dually silencing the prenylation enzymes, farnesyl transferase and geranylgeranyl transferase type-I, or uniquely silencing geranylgeranyl transferase type-II, mitigates NMJ denervation in the transgenic (Tg) mouse expressing mutant SOD1 (mSOD1). The rationale for this project is that, once it is known which prenylated proteins are essential for ALS-related motor axon pathology and which prenyl transferases catalyze their prenylation, new and innovative strategies can be devised for the treatment of ALS. Thus, the following three specific aims are proposed.
In AIM 1, we will identify the prenyl transferase involved in motor axon pathology by silencing these enzymes individually or in combination in Tg mSOD1 mice and then, we will compare, at different time points, the number of lumbar and phrenic MNs and the NMJ innervation of ambulatory and respiratory muscles that are critical to the quality of life and lifespan, respectively. We will also demonstrate the generic nature of protein prenylation in ALS-related motor axon pathology by assessing the most effective silencing identified above in a non-SOD1 model of ALS.
In AIM 2, we will ascertain the specificity of protein prenylation for motor axon pathology by monitoring behavioral, electrophysiological and anatomical parameters in Tg mSOD1 mice deficient in the pro-cell death gene Bax with and without prenylation inhibition. Since Bax deletion abrogates spinal MN death but not motor axon pathology in these mice, Tg mSOD1/Bax?/? animals will enable us to determine whether: (i) motor axon pathology and MN death are governed by distinct molecular programs and (ii) inhibition of both prenylation and Bax not only delays the onset of motor deficit but also extends lifespan.
In AIM 3, we will elucidate the specific prenylated proteins that contribute to motor axon pathology by generating the MN prenylated proteome and then, use this information to perform a loss-of- function screening in an in vitro model of ALS-like axon pathology. Lastly, those silenced MN prenylated proteins that mitigate the axon phenotype in vitro will be validated in Tg mSOD1 mice using the same tests as in AIM 2. In light of the above, we expect that the successful completion of the proposed work will identify the prenylation pathway and its targets that contribute to motor axon pathology in ALS. These findings will have an important positive impact in that they will provide opportunities for preventive and therapeutic interventions and, fundamentally, advance our mechanistic understanding of ALS and related disorders.

Public Health Relevance

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is an incurable fatal paralytic disorder of uncertain cause characterized by the loss of connections between brain cells and the muscles. Herein, we propose to establish the role of the attachment of specific lipids to proteins in driving muscle disconnection and ensuing paralysis. We expect the outcome of this work to help develop new therapeutic strategies for ALS.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
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Cell Death in Neurodegeneration Study Section (CDIN)
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Gubitz, Amelie
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Columbia University (N.Y.)
Schools of Medicine
New York
United States
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