October 23, 2020

SFPQ intron retention, reduced expression and aggregate formation in central nervous system tissue are pathological features of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Background: Splicing factor proline and glutamine rich (SFPQ, also known as polypyrimidine tract-binding protein-associated-splicing factor, PSF) is a RNA-DNA binding protein with roles in key cellular pathways such as DNA transcription and repair, RNA processing and paraspeckle formation. Dysregulation of SFPQ is emerging as a common pathological feature of multiple neurodegenerative diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Increased retention of SFPQ intron nine and nuclear loss of the protein have been linked to multiple genetic subtypes of ALS. Consequently, SFPQ dysregulation has been hypothesised to be a common pathological feature of this highly heterogeneous disease. Methods: This study provides a comprehensive assessment of SFPQ pathology in large ALS patient cohorts. SFPQ gene expression and intron nine retention were examined in multiple neuroanatomical regions and blood from ALS patients and control individuals using RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) and quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR). SFPQ protein levels were assessed by immunoblotting of patient and control motor cortex and SFPQ expression pattern was examined by immunofluorescent staining of patient and control spinal cord sections. Finally, whole-genome sequencing data from a large cohort of sporadic ALS patients was analysed for genetic variation in SFPQ. Results: SFPQ intron nine retention was significantly increased in ALS patient motor cortex. Total SFPQ mRNA expression was significantly downregulated in ALS patient motor cortex but not ALS patient blood, indicating tissue specific SFPQ dysregulation. At the protein level, nuclear expression of SFPQ in both control and patient spinal motor neurons was highly variable and nuclear depletion of SFPQ was not a consistent feature in our ALS cohort. However, we did observe SFPQ-positive cytoplasmic ubiquitinated protein aggregates in ALS spinal motor neurons. In addition, our genetic screen of ALS patients identified two novel, and two rare sequence variants in SFPQ not previously reported in ALS. Conclusions: This study shows that dysregulation of SFPQ is a feature of ALS patient central nervous system tissue. These findings confirm SFPQ pathology as a feature of ALS and indicate that investigations into the functional consequences of this pathology will provide insight into the biology of ALS.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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