Converging evidence indicates that aberrant aggregation of mutant Cu,Zn-superoxide dismutase (mutSOD1) is strongly implicated in familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (FALS). MutSOD1 forms high molecular weight oligomers, which disappear under reducing conditions, both in neural tissues of FALS transgenic mice and in transfected cultured cells, indicating a role for aberrant intermolecular disulfide cross-linking in the oligomerization and aggregation process. To study the contribution of specific cysteines in the mechanism of aggregation, we mutated human SOD1 in each of its four cysteine residues and, using a cell transfection assay, analyzed the solubility and aggregation of those SOD1s. Our results suggest that the formation of mutSOD1 aggregates are the consequence of covalent disulfide cross-linking and non-covalent interactions. In particular, we found that the removal of Cys-111 strongly reduces the ability of a range of different FALS-associated mutSOD1s to form aggregates and impair cell viability in cultured NSC-34 cells. Moreover, the removal of Cys-111 impairs the ability of mutSOD1s to form disulfide cross-linking. Treatments that deplete the cellular pool of GSH exacerbate mutSOD1s insolubility, whereas an overload of intracellular GSH or overexpression of glutaredoxin-1, which specifically catalyzes the reduction of protein-SSG-mixed disulfides, significantly rescues mutSOD1s solubility. These data are consistent with the view that the redox environment influences the oligomerization/aggregation pathway of mutSOD1 and point to Cys-111 as a key mediator of this process.
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