The goal of this study is to examine the functions of the zinc finger protein ZPR1 in R-loops metabolism and neurodegeneration. R-loops are formed during transcription and consist of RNA-DNA hybridized strands and a complementary DNA strand. R-loop accumulation results in DNA damage leading to neurodegeneration associated with genetic neurodegenerative diseases, including spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ZPR1 is evolutionary conserved in eukaryotes and is essential for cell viability. However, very little is known about the ZPR1 biological functions that may contribute to cell viability and human disease etiology. ZPR1 interacts directly with translation elongation factor 1A (EF1A), RNA Polymerase II and Senataxin (SETX), which are also conserved in eukaryotes. SETX is an RNA-DNA helicase required for resolution of R- loops. Mutations in SETX are associated with a group of untreatable neurodegenerative disorders, including ataxia oculomotor apraxia type 2, autosomal dominant SMA and ALS4, characterized by defects in R-loop metabolism. The molecular mechanisms of R-loop resolution are largely unknown. Our preliminary data show that ZPR1 deficiency causes R-loop accumulation and neurodegeneration. ZPR1 overexpression reduces R- loops and rescues DNA damage in neurons and patient cells, and prevents neurodegeneration in SMA mice. ZPR1 binds to RNA-DNA hybrids and associates with R-loops in vivo. ZPR1 interacts with SETX and ZPR1 is required for the formation of SETX complexes with R-loops suggesting that ZPR1 may help recruit SETX to R- loops. We have created novel Zpr1 mutant mice, with double and quadruple point mutations in the Zpr1 locus to selectively disrupt ZPR1-EF1A complexes. ZPR1 mutant mice show accumulation of R-loops and develop neurodegenerative disease-like phenotypes similar to reported for patients with SETX mutations. Together, these findings raise a hypothesis that ZPR1 complexes with EF1A and SETX may play distinct and critical roles in R-loop resolution and provide a foundation for investigating the function of ZPR1-EF1A and ZPR1-SETX complexes in R-loop metabolism.
The specific aims are to examine:
(Aim 1) the molecular basis of ZPR1- dependent accumulation of co-transcriptional R-loops and neurodegeneration using Zpr1 conditional mice;
(Aim 2) the function of ZPR1-EF1A complexes in R-loop resolution using novel mouse models to disrupt ZPR1-EF1A complexes in vivo in motor neurons that we have generated, and the mechanism of GTP/GDP-dependent resolution of RNA and DNA strands by ZPR1-EF1A complexes;
(Aim 3) the function of ZPR1-SETX complexes in R-loop metabolism, genome integrity and ALS4 pathogenesis. ZPR1-SETX complexes are disrupted in ALS4 patients with SETX mutation. The effect of disruption of ZPR1-SETX complexes on R-loop metabolism, DNA replication fork and genome integrity using cell-based models, including patient cells. This study will provide comprehensive insight into the molecular basis of pathogenesis caused by defects in R-loop metabolism that would be a breakthrough towards developing targeted therapeutic strategies for a group of incurable diseases.

Public Health Relevance

A group of incurable neurodegenerative disorders caused by mutations senataxin gene and is characterized by defects in RNA-DNA hybrids (R-loops) metabolism, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 4 (ALS4), autosomal dominant spinal muscular atrophy (ADSMA) and ataxia with oculomotor apraxia 2 (AOA2). Currently, there is no treatment for a growing number of disorders caused by defects in R-loop metabolism. This study will provide insight into the molecular mechanism of R-loop accumulation and resolution, and validate novel molecular targets that would be a breakthrough towards developing therapeutic strategies for preventing neurodegeneration caused by defects in R-loop metabolism.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
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Molecular Neurogenetics Study Section (MNG)
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Nuckolls, Glen H
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Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso
Other Basic Sciences
Schools of Medicine
El Paso
United States
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