TDP-43 mutations causing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are associated with altered expression of RNA-binding protein hnRNP K and affect the Nrf2 antioxidant pathway

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TAR DNA binding protein 43 (TDP-43) is a major disease-associated protein involved in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration with ubiquitin-positive inclusions (FTLD-U). Our previous studies found a direct association between TDP-43 and heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K (hnRNP K). In this study, utilizing ALS patient fibroblasts harboring a TDP-43M337V mutation and NSC-34 motor neuronal cell line expressing TDP-43Q331K mutation, we show that hnRNP K expression is impaired in urea soluble extracts from mutant TDP-43 cell models. This was confirmed in vivo using TDP-43Q331K and inducible TDP-43A315T murine ALS models. We further investigated the potential pathological effects of mutant TDP-43-mediated changes to hnRNP K metabolism by RNA binding immunoprecipitation analysis. hnRNP K protein was bound to antioxidant NFE2L2 transcripts encoding Nrf2 antioxidant transcription factor, with greater enrichment in TDP-43M337V patient fibroblasts compared to healthy controls. Subsequent gene expression profiling revealed an increase in downstream antioxidant transcript expression of Nrf2 signaling in the spinal cord of TDP-43Q331K mice compared to control counterparts, yet the corresponding protein expression was not up-regulated in transgenic mice. Despite the elevated expression of antioxidant transcripts, we observed impaired levels of glutathione (downstream Nrf2 antioxidant) in TDP-43M337V patient fibroblasts and astrocyte cultures from TDP-43Q331K mice, indicative of elevated oxidative stress and failure of some upregulated antioxidant genes to be translated into protein. Our findings indicate that further exploration of the interplay between hnRNP K (or other hnRNPs) and Nrf2-mediated antioxidant signaling is warranted and may be an important driver for motor neuron degeneration in ALS.

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