Retrotransposon activation contributes to neurodegeneration in a Drosophila TDP-43 model of ALS
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SubjectAmyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD); neurodegenerative disorders
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) are two incurable neurodegenerative disorders that exist on a symptomological spectrum and share both genetic underpinnings and pathophysiological hallmarks. Functional abnormality of TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43), an aggregation-prone RNA and DNA binding protein, is observed in the vast majority of both familial and sporadic ALS cases and in ~40% of FTLD cases, but the cascade of events leading to cell death are not understood. We have expressed human TDP-43 (hTDP-43) in Drosophila neurons and glia, a model that recapitulates many of the characteristics of TDP-43-linked human disease including protein aggregation pathology, locomotor impairment, and premature death. We report that such expression of hTDP-43 impairs small interfering RNA (siRNA) silencing, which is the major post-transcriptional mechanism of retrotransposable element (RTE) control in somatic tissue. This is accompanied by derepression of a panel of both LINE and LTR families of RTEs, with somewhat different elements being active in response to hTDP-43 expression in glia versus neurons. hTDP-43 expression in glia causes an early and severe loss of control of a specific RTE, the endogenous retrovirus (ERV) gypsy. We demonstrate that gypsy causes the degenerative phenotypes in these flies because we are able to rescue the toxicity of glial hTDP-43 either by genetically blocking expression of this RTE or by pharmacologically inhibiting RTE reverse transcriptase activity. Moreover, we provide evidence that activation of DNA damage-mediated programmed cell death underlies both neuronal and glial hTDP-43 toxicity, consistent with RTE-mediated effects in both cell types. Our findings suggest a novel mechanism in which RTE activity contributes to neurodegeneration in TDP-43-mediated diseases such as ALS and FTLD.
© 2017 Krug et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.