Mutations in the Cu,Zn-superoxide dismutase (SOD1) gene cause a familial form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) through an unknown gain-of-function mechanism. Mutant SOD1 aggregation may be the toxic property. In fact, proteinaceous inclusions rich in mutant SOD1 have been found in tissues from the familial form of ALS patients and in mutant SOD1 animals, before disease onset. However, very little is known of the constituents and mechanism of formation of aggregates in ALS. We and others have shown that there is a progressive accumulation of detergent-insoluble mutant SOD1 in the spinal cord of G93A SOD1 mice. To investigate the mechanism of SOD1 aggregation, we characterized by proteome technologies SOD1 isoforms in a Triton X-100-insoluble fraction of spinal cord from G93A SOD1 mice at different stages of the disease. This showed that at symptomatic stages of the disease, part of the insoluble SOD1 is unambiguously mono- and oligoubiquitinated, in spinal cord and not in hippocampus, and that ubiquitin branches at Lys48, the major signal for proteasome degradation. At presymptomatic stages of the disease, only insoluble unmodified SOD1 is recovered. Partial ubiquitination of SOD1-rich inclusions was also confirmed by immunohistochemical and electron microscopy analysis of lumbar spinal cord sections from symptomatic G93A SOD1 mice. On the basis of these results, we propose that ubiquitination occurs only after SOD1 aggregation and that oligoubiquitination may underline alternative mechanisms in disease pathogenesis.
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