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Open Access Research article

Widespread aggregation of mutant VAPB associated with ALS does not cause motor neuron degeneration or modulate mutant SOD1 aggregation and toxicity in mice

Linghua Qiu1*, Tao Qiao1, Melissa Beers12, Weijia Tan1, Hongyan Wang1, Bin Yang13 and Zuoshang Xu145*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, 01602, USA

2 Current address: Department of Biological Sciences, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, 02481, USA

3 Current address: Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, 91125, USA

4 Department of Cell Biology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, 01602, USA

5 Neuroscience Program, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, 01602, USA

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Molecular Neurodegeneration 2013, 8:1  doi:10.1186/1750-1326-8-1

Published: 3 January 2013

Abstract

Background

A proline-to-serine substitution at position-56 (P56S) of vesicle-associated membrane protein-associated protein B (VAPB) causes a form of dominantly inherited motor neuron disease (MND), including typical and atypical amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and a mild late-onset spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). VAPB is an integral endoplasmic reticulum (ER) protein and has been implicated in various cellular processes, including ER stress, the unfolded protein response (UPR) and Ca2+ homeostasis. However, it is unclear how the P56S mutation leads to neurodegeneration and muscle atrophy in patients. The formation of abnormal VAPB-positive inclusions by mutant VAPB suggests a possible toxic gain of function as an underlying mechanism. Furthermore, the amount of VAPB protein is reported to be reduced in sporadic ALS patients and mutant SOD1G93A mice, leading to the hypothesis that wild type VAPB plays a role in the pathogenesis of ALS without VAPB mutations.

Results

To investigate the pathogenic mechanism in vivo, we generated human wild type (wtVAPB) and mutant VAPB (muVAPB) transgenic mice that expressed the transgenes broadly in the CNS. We observed robust VAPB-positive aggregates in the spinal cord of muVAPB transgenic mice. However, we failed to find an impairment of motor function and motor neuron degeneration. We also did not detect any change in the endogenous VAPB level or evidence for induction of the unfolded protein response (UPR) and coaggregation of VAPA with muVAPB. Furthermore, we crossed these VAPB transgenic mice with mice that express mutant SOD1G93A and develop motor neuron degeneration. Overexpression of neither wtVAPB nor muVAPB modulated the protein aggregation and disease progression in the SOD1G93A mice.

Conclusion

Overexpression of VAPBP56S mutant to approximately two-fold of the endogenous VAPB in mouse spinal cord produced abundant VAPB aggregates but was not sufficient to cause motor dysfunction or motor neuron degeneration. Furthermore, overexpression of either muVAPB or wtVAPB does not modulate the course of ALS in SOD1G93A mice. These results suggest that changes in wild type VAPB do not play a significant role in ALS cases that are not caused by VAPB mutations. Furthermore, these results suggest that muVAPB aggregates are innocuous and do not cause motor neuron degeneration by a gain-of-toxicity, and therefore, a loss of function may be the underlying mechanism.

Keywords:
VAPB; ALS; Motor neuron disease; Neurodegeneration; Transgenic mice