Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cell Biology



First Thesis Advisor

Lawrence J. Hayward, MD, PhD


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, RNA-Binding Protein FUS, Motor Neurons, Cell Death, Physiological Stress


Dissertations, UMMS; Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis; RNA-Binding Protein FUS; Motor Neurons; Cell Death; Stress, Physiological


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by preferential motor neuron death in the brain and spinal cord. The rapid disease progression results in death due to respiratory failure, typically within 3-5 years after disease onset. While ~90% of cases occur sporadically, remaining 10% of ALS cases show familial inheritance, and the number of genes linked to ALS has increased dramatically over the past decade.

FUS/TLS (Fused in Sarcoma/ Translocated to liposarcoma) is a nucleic acid binding protein that may regulate several cellular functions, including RNA splicing, transcription, DNA damage repair and microRNA biogenesis. More than 50 mutations in the FUS gene are linked to 4% of familial ALS, and many of these may disrupt the nuclear localization signal, leading to variable amounts of FUS accumulation in the cytoplasm. However, the mechanism by which FUS mutants cause motor neuron death is still unknown.

The studies presented in this dissertation focused on investigating the properties of FUS mutants in the absence and presence of stress conditions. We first examined how ALS-linked FUS mutants behaved in response to imposed stresses in both cell culture and zebrafish models of ALS. We found that FUS mutants were prone to accumulate in stress granules in proportion to their degree of cytoplasmic mislocalization under conditions of oxidative stress, ER stress, and heat shock.

However, many FUS missense mutants are retained predominantly in the nucleus, and this suggested the possibility that these mutants might also perturb one or more nuclear functions. In a human cell line expressing FUS variants and in human fibroblasts from an ALS patient, mutant FUS expression was associated with enlarged promyelocytic leukemia nuclear bodies (PML-NBs) under basal condition. Upon oxidative insult with arsenic trioxide (ATO), PML-NBs in control cells increased acutely in size and were turned over within 12-24 h, as expected. However, PML-NBs in FUS mutant cells did not progress through the expected turnover but instead continued to enlarge over 24 h. We also observed a persistent accumulation of the transcriptional repressor Daxx and the 11S proteasome regulator in association with these enlarged PML-NBs. Furthermore, the peptidase activities of the 26S proteasome were decreased in FUS mutant cells without any changes in the expression of proteasome subunits.

These results demonstrate that FUS mutant expression may alter cellular stress responses as manifested by (i) accumulation of mutant FUS into stress granules and (ii) inhibition of PML-NB dynamics. These findings suggest a novel nuclear pathology specific to mutant FUS expression that may perturb nuclear homeostasis and thereby contribute to ALS pathogenesis.



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