Hexanucleotide repeat expansions of variable size in C9orf72 are the most prevalent genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia. Sense and antisense transcripts of the expansions are translated by repeat-associated non-AUG translation into five dipeptide repeat proteins (DPRs). Of these, the polyGR, polyPR and, to a lesser extent, polyGA DPRs are neurotoxic, with polyGA the most abundantly detected DPR in patient tissue. Trans-cellular transmission of protein aggregates has recently emerged as a major driver of toxicity in various neurodegenerative diseases. In vitro evidence suggests that the C9 DPRs can spread. However, whether this phenomenon occurs under more complex in vivo conditions remains unexplored. Here, we used the adult fly brain to investigate whether the C9 DPRs can spread in vivo upon expression in a subset of neurons. We found that only polyGA can progressively spread throughout the brain, which accumulates in the shape of aggregate-like puncta inside recipient cells. Interestingly, GA transmission occurred as early as 3 days after expression induction. By comparing the spread of 36, 100 and 200 polyGA repeats, we found that polyGA spread is enhanced upon expression of longer GA DPRs. Transmission of polyGA is greater in older flies, indicating that age-associated factors exacerbate the spread. These data highlight a unique propensity of polyGA to spread throughout the brain, which could contribute to the greater abundance of polyGA in patient tissue. In addition, we present a model of early GA transmission that is suitable for genetic screens to identify mechanisms of spread and its consequences in vivo.
Keywords: Ageing; C9orf72; Dipeptide repeat proteins; Drosophila; PolyGA; Repeat size; Spread.