Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) share phenotypic and pathologic overlap. Recently, an expansion of GGGGCC repeats in the first intron of C9orf72 was found to be a common cause of both illnesses; however, the molecular pathogenesis of this expanded repeat is unknown. Here we developed both Drosophila and mammalian models of this expanded hexanucleotide repeat and showed that expression of the expanded GGGGCC repeat RNA (rGGGGCC) is sufficient to cause neurodegeneration. We further identified Pur α as the RNA-binding protein of rGGGGCC repeats and discovered that Pur α and rGGGGCC repeats interact in vitro and in vivo in a sequence-specific fashion that is conserved between mammals and Drosophila. Furthermore, overexpression of Pur α in mouse neuronal cells and Drosophila mitigates rGGGGCC repeat-mediated neurodegeneration, and Pur α forms inclusions in the fly eye expressing expanded rGGGGCC repeats, as well as in cerebellum of human carriers of expanded GGGGCC repeats. These data suggest that expanded rGGGGCC repeats could sequester specific RNA-binding protein from their normal functions, ultimately leading to cell death. Taken together, these findings suggest that the expanded rGGGGCC repeats could cause neurodegeneration, and that Pur α may play a role in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia.
Keywords: RNA-mediated neurodegeneration; fly model.