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Aggregation of the nucleic acid–binding protein TDP-43 occurs via distinct routes that are coordinated with stress granule formation

ABSTRACT

TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) is a nucleic acid–binding protein, and its aggregation represents the defining pathology in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and related proteinopathies. Recent studies implicate cytoplasmic stress granules (SGs) as hubs that may facilitate TDP-43 aggregation. Here, using cellular fractionation, biochemical analyses, and histological assays, we show that TDP-43 targeted to the cytoplasm has multiple fates. Whereas a TDP-43 subpopulation is indeed recruited to SGs, mature aggregated TDP-43, produced with aggregate-prone TDP-43 variants or exposure to oxidative stress, generates distinct TDP-43 inclusions that are surprisingly devoid of SGs. Consistent with this observation, we found that SG components are predominantly excluded from TDP-43 pathology in motor neurons from individuals with ALS. We generated de novo SGs by expressing the fragile-X protein (FMRP) and found that, rather than directly engaging TDP-43 aggregates, SGs can sequester the proteostasis factor histone deacetylase 6 (HDAC6) and thereby impede TDP-43 clearance from cells. These findings indicate that SGs form distinct cytoplasmic structures that can indirectly enhance TDP-43 aggregation propensity. Therapeutic approaches that inhibit SG formation may therefore be effective at suppressing TDP-43–mediated toxicity in patients with ALS and related TDP-43 proteinopathies.