Progranulin and TMEM106B: when two become wan

EMBO Rep. 2020 Oct 5;21(10):e51668. doi: 10.15252/embr.202051668. Epub 2020 Sep 28.


Mutations in GRN, which encodes progranulin, are a common cause of familial frontotemporal dementia (FTD). FTD is a devastating disease characterised by neuronal loss in the frontal and temporal lobes that leads to changes in personality, behaviour and language. There are no effective treatments for this complex condition. TMEM106B is a well-recognised risk factor for FTD caused by GRN mutation. While the specific relationship between progranulin and TMEM106B is unclear, it is well established that they are both required for correct lysosome function and trafficking. Elegant experiments have suggested that increased risk for FTD is due to elevated levels of TMEM106B (Nicholson et al, 2013; Gallagher et al, 2017). Therefore, recent work has explored the therapeutic potential of reducing TMEM106B levels, with initial results looking encouraging, as crossing a Grn-deficient mouse to a Tmem106b knockout showed a rescue in FTD-related behavioural defects and specific aspects of lysosome dysfunction (Klein et al, 2017). However, three independent studies in this issue report that completely removing Tmem106b from Grn knockout mice leads to clear exacerbation of phenotypes, causing severe motor deficits, neurodegeneration and enhanced lysosome abnormalities and gliosis. Remarkably, the double knockout mice also develop TDP-43 pathology-a hallmark of FTD patients with GRN mutations that have not been consistently observed in either of the single knockouts. These concurrent publications that all reach the same surprising but definitive conclusion are a cautionary tale in the control of TMEM106B levels as a potential therapeutic for FTD. They also re-ignite the debate as to whether loss or gain of TMEM106B function is critical for altering FTD risk.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Frontotemporal Dementia* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins* / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mutation
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Progranulins / genetics


  • GRN protein, human
  • Grn protein, mouse
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Progranulins
  • TMEM106B protein, human
  • Tmem106b protein, mouse