GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology


Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

First Thesis Advisor

C. Robert Matthews, Ph.D.


Superoxide Dismutase, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Zinc, Protein Folding, Proteostasis Deficiencies, Disulfides


Cu, Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1) is a dimeric, β-sandwich, metalloenzyme responsible for the dismutation of superoxide. Mutations covering nearly 50% of the amino acid sequence of SOD1 have been found to acquire a toxic gain-of-function leading to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A hallmark of this disease is the presence of insoluble aggregates containing SOD1 found in the brain and spinal cord. While it is unclear how these aggregates or smaller, precursor oligomeric species may be the source of the toxicity, mutations leading to increased populations of unstable, partially folded species along the folding pathway of SOD1 may be responsible for seeding and propagating aggregation.

In an effort to determine the responsible species, we have systematically characterized the stability and folding kinetics of five well studied ALS variants: A4V, L38V, G93A, L106V and S134N. The effect of the amino acid substitutions was determined on a variety of different constructs characterizing the various post-translational maturation steps of SOD1: folding, disulfide bond formation and Zn binding. Zn was found to bind progressively tighter along the folding pathway of SOD1, minimizing populations of monomeric species. In contrast, ALS variants were found to have the greatest perturbation in the equilibrium populations of the folded and unfolded state for the most immature, disulfide-reduced metal-free SOD1. In this species, at physiological temperature, four out of five ALS variants were >50% unfolded.

Finally the energetic barriers in the folding and unfolding reaction were studied to investigate the unusually slow folding of SOD1. These results reveal that both unfolding and refolding are dominated by enthalpic barriers which may be explained by the desolvation of the chain and provide insights into the role of sequence in governing the folding pathway and rate.



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