Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Protein aggregation is a hallmark of many diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), where aggregation of Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1) is implicated in causing neurodegeneration. Recent studies have suggested that destabilization and aggregation of the most immature form of SOD1, the disulfide-reduced, unmetallated (apo) protein is particularly important in causing ALS. We report herein in depth analyses of the effects of chemically and structurally diverse ALS-associated mutations on the stability and aggregation of reduced apo SOD1. In contrast with previous studies, we find that various reduced apo SOD1 mutants undergo highly reversible thermal denaturation with little aggregation, enabling quantitative thermodynamic stability analyses. In the absence of ALS-associated mutations, reduced apo SOD1 is marginally stable but predominantly folded. Mutations generally result in slight decreases to substantial increases in the fraction of unfolded protein. Calorimetry, ultracentrifugation, and light scattering show that all mutations enhance aggregation propensity, with the effects varying widely, from subtle increases in most cases, to pronounced formation of 40-100 nm soluble aggregates by A4V, a mutation that is associated with particularly short disease duration. Interestingly, although there is a correlation between observed aggregation and stability, there is minimal to no correlation between observed aggregation, predicted aggregation propensity, and disease characteristics. These findings suggest that reduced apo SOD1 does not play a dominant role in modulating disease. Rather, additional and/or multiple forms of SOD1 and additional biophysical and biological factors are needed to account for the toxicity of mutant SOD1 in ALS.