Background: Dominant mutations in superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) cause degeneration of motor neurons in a subset of inherited amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The pathogenetic process mediated by misfolded and/or aggregated mutant SOD1 polypeptides is hypothesized to be suppressed by protein refolding. This genetic study is aimed to test whether mutant SOD1-mediated ALS pathology recapitulated in mice could be alleviated by overexpressing a longevity-related deacetylase SIRT1 whose substrates include a transcription factor heat shock factor 1 (HSF1), the master regulator of the chaperone system.
Results: We established a line of transgenic mice that chronically overexpress SIRT1 in the brain and spinal cord. While inducible HSP70 (HSP70i) was upregulated in the spinal cord of SIRT1 transgenic mice (PrP-Sirt1), no neurological and behavioral alterations were detected. To test hypothetical benefits of SIRT1 overexpression, we crossbred PrP-Sirt1 mice with two lines of ALS model mice: A high expression line that exhibits a severe phenotype (SOD1G93A-H) or a low expression line with a milder phenotype (SOD1G93A-L). The Sirt1 transgene conferred longer lifespan without altering the time of symptomatic onset in SOD1G93A-L. Biochemical analysis of the spinal cord revealed that SIRT1 induced HSP70i expression through deacetylation of HSF1 and that SOD1G93A-L/PrP-Sirt1 double transgenic mice contained less insoluble SOD1 than SOD1G93A-L mice. Parallel experiments showed that Sirt1 transgene could not rescue a more severe phenotype of SOD1G93A-H transgenic mice partly because their HSP70i level had peaked out.
Conclusions: The genetic supplementation of SIRT1 can ameliorate a mutant SOD1-linked ALS mouse model partly through the activation of the HSF1/HSP70i chaperone system. Future studies shall include testing potential benefits of pharmacological enhancement of the deacetylation activity of SIRT1 after the onset of the symptom.