Furthermore, one of the five chromatin regulatory proteins, SS18L1, is a member of a neuron-specific complex called nBAF, which has long been studied in Crabtree's laboratory. This complex is strongly expressed in the brain and spinal cord, and affects the ability of the neurons to form branching structures called dendrites that are essential to nerve signaling.
"We found that, in one sporadic ALS case, the last nine amino acids of this protein are missing," Gitler said. "I knew that Gerald Crabtree's lab had been investigating SS18L1, so I asked him about it. In fact, they had already identified these amino acids as being very important to the function of the protein."
When the researchers expressed the mutant SS18L1 in motor neurons isolated from mouse embryos, they found the neurons were unable to extend and grow new dendrites as robustly as normal neurons in response to stimuli. They also showed that SS18L1 appears to physically interact with another protein known to be involved in cases of familial, or inherited, ALS.
Although the results are intriguing, the researchers caution that more work is necessary to conclusively prove whether and how mutations in SS18L1 contribute to sporadic cases of ALS. But now they have an idea of where to look in other patients, without requiring the existence of patient and parent trios. They are planning to sequence SS18L1 and other candidates in an additional few thousand sporadic ALS cases.
"This is the first systematic analysis of ALS triads for the presence of de novo mutations," Chesi said. "Now we have a list of candidate genes we can pursue. We haven't proven that these mutations cause ALS, but we've shown,
|Contact: Krista Conger|
Stanford University Medical Center