Intracellular conformational alterations of mutant SOD1 and the implications for fALS-associated SOD1 mutant induced motor neuron cell death

Fujian Zhang, Haining Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the selective death of motor neurons. Approximately 10% of ALS cases are familial (fALS) and about 25% of fALS patients inherit autosomal dominant mutations in the gene encoding copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1). Over 90 different SOD1 mutations have been identified in fALS patients. It has been established that the ALS-linked SOD1 mutations provoke a new toxic function, the nature of which remains unclear. In vitro studies using various biophysical techniques have demonstrated that the SOD1 mutants share a reduced conformational stability. However, conformational alterations of the ALS mutants have not been directly demonstrated in vivo. We employed an SOD1-GFP fusion protein system in this study to monitor the intracellular protein conformation. We demonstrate that the ALS-linked SOD1 mutants adopt different conformations from the wild-type (WT) protein in living cells. Moreover, the conformational alterations of mutant SOD1 render the mutants susceptible to the formation of high-molecular-weight complexes prior to the appearance of detergent-resistant aggregates. Finally, we show that the motor neuron-like cells expressing mutant SOD1 are more susceptible to H2O2 induced cell death compared to the cells expressing WT SOD1. This study provides direct evidence of in vivo conformational differences between WT and mutant SOD1. In addition, the SOD1-GFP system can be exploited in future studies to investigate how conformational alterations of mutant SOD1 lead to protein aggregation and to study the potential toxicity of such aggregates in familial ALS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)404-414
Number of pages11
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - General Subjects
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1)
  • High-molecular-weight complex
  • Intracellular protein conformation
  • Protein aggregate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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