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.