Over 30% of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) exhibit cognitive deficits indicative of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), suggesting a common pathogenesis for both diseases. Consistent with this hypothesis, neuronal and glial inclusions rich in TDP43, an essential RNA-binding protein, are found in the majority of those with ALS and FTD, and mutations in TDP43 and a related RNA-binding protein, FUS, cause familial ALS and FTD. TDP43 and FUS affect the splicing of thousands of transcripts, in some cases triggering nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD), a highly conserved RNA degradation pathway. Here, we take advantage of a faithful primary neuronal model of ALS and FTD to investigate and characterize the role of human up-frameshift protein 1 (hUPF1), an RNA helicase and master regulator of NMD, in these disorders. We show that hUPF1 significantly protects mammalian neurons from both TDP43- and FUS-related toxicity. Expression of hUPF2, another essential component of NMD, also improves survival, whereas inhibiting NMD prevents rescue by hUPF1, suggesting that hUPF1 acts through NMD to enhance survival. These studies emphasize the importance of RNA metabolism in ALS and FTD, and identify a uniquely effective therapeutic strategy for these disorders.
Keywords: ALS; FTD; RNA binding proteins; RNA decay; neurodegeneration.