The copper-zinc superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1) is a highly structured protein and, a priori, one of the least likely proteins to be involved in a misfolding disease. However, more than 140, mostly missense, mutations in the SOD1 gene cause aggregation of the affected protein in familial forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The remarkable diversity of the effects of these mutations on SOD1 properties has suggested that they promote aggregation by a variety of mechanisms. Experimental assessment of surface hydrophobicity using a sensitive fluorescent-based assay, revealed that diverse ALS-causing mutations provoke SOD1 aggregation by increasing their propensity to expose hydrophobic surfaces. These findings could not be anticipated from analysis of the amino acid sequence. Our results uncover the biochemical nature of the misfolded aggregation-prone intermediate and reconcile the seemingly diverse effects of ALS-causing mutations into a unifying mechanism. Furthermore, the method we describe here will be useful for investigating and interfering with aggregation of various proteins and thereby provide insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying many neurodegenerative diseases.
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