Pathological forms of TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) are present in motor neurons of almost all amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients, and mutations in TDP-43 are also present in ALS. Loss and gain of TDP-43 functions are implicated in pathogenesis, but the mechanisms are unclear. While the RNA functions of TDP-43 have been widely investigated, its DNA binding roles remain unclear. However, recent studies have implicated a role for TDP-43 in the DNA damage response.
We used NSC-34 motor neuron-like cells and primary cortical neurons expressing wildtype TDP-43 or TDP-43 ALS associated mutants (A315T, Q331K), in which DNA damage was induced by etoposide or H2O2 treatment. We investigated the consequences of depletion of TDP-43 on DNA repair using small interfering RNAs. Specific non homologous end joining (NHEJ) reporters (EJ5GFP and EJ2GFP) and cells lacking DNA-dependent serine/threonine protein kinase (DNA-PK) were used to investigate the role of TDP-43 in DNA repair. To investigate the recruitment of TDP-43 to sites of DNA damage we used single molecule super-resolution microscopy and a co-immunoprecipitation assay. We also investigated DNA damage in an ALS transgenic mouse model, in which TDP-43 accumulates pathologically in the cytoplasm. We also examined fibroblasts derived from ALS patients bearing the TDP-43 M337V mutation for evidence of DNA damage.
We demonstrate that wildtype TDP-43 is recruited to sites of DNA damage where it participates in classical NHEJ DNA repair. However, ALS-associated TDP-43 mutants lose this activity, which induces DNA damage. Furthermore, DNA damage is present in mice displaying TDP-43 pathology, implying an active role in neurodegeneration. Additionally, DNA damage triggers features typical of TDP-43 pathology; cytoplasmic mis-localisation and stress granule formation. Similarly, inhibition of NHEJ induces TDP-43 mis-localisation to the cytoplasm.
This study reveals that TDP-43 functions in DNA repair, but loss of this function triggers DNA damage and is associated with key pathological features of ALS.