Background: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease involving loss of motor neurons and having no known cure and uncertain etiology. Several studies have drawn connections between altered retrotransposon expression and ALS. Certain features of the LINE-1 (L1) retrotransposon-encoded ORF1 protein (ORF1p) are analogous to those of neurodegeneration-associated RNA-binding proteins, including formation of cytoplasmic aggregates. In this study we explore these features and consider possible links between L1 expression and ALS.
Results: We first considered factors that modulate aggregation and subcellular distribution of LINE-1 ORF1p, including nuclear localization. Changes to some ORF1p amino acid residues alter both retrotransposition efficiency and protein aggregation dynamics, and we found that one such polymorphism is present in endogenous L1s abundant in the human genome. We failed, however, to identify CRM1-mediated nuclear export signals in ORF1p nor strict involvement of cell cycle in endogenous ORF1p nuclear localization in human 2102Ep germline teratocarcinoma cells. Some proteins linked with ALS bind and colocalize with L1 ORF1p ribonucleoprotein particles in cytoplasmic RNA granules. Increased expression of several ALS-associated proteins, including TAR DNA Binding Protein (TDP-43), strongly limits cell culture retrotransposition, while some disease-related mutations modify these effects. Using quantitative reverse transcription PCR (RT-qPCR) of ALS tissues and reanalysis of publicly available RNA-Seq datasets, we asked if changes in expression of retrotransposons are associated with ALS. We found minimal altered expression in sporadic ALS tissues but confirmed a previous report of differential expression of many repeat subfamilies in C9orf72 gene-mutated ALS patients.
Conclusions: Here we extended understanding of the subcellular localization dynamics of the aggregation-prone LINE-1 ORF1p RNA-binding protein. However, we failed to find compelling evidence for misregulation of LINE-1 retrotransposons in sporadic ALS nor a clear effect of ALS-associated TDP-43 protein on L1 expression. In sum, our study reveals that the interplay of active retrotransposons and the molecular features of ALS are more complex than anticipated. Thus, the potential consequences of altered retrotransposon activity for ALS and other neurodegenerative disorders are worthy of continued investigation.