The pathobiology of TDP-43 C-terminal fragments in ALS and FTLD

Britt A. Berning, Adam K. Walker

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    During neurodegenerative disease, the multifunctional RNA-binding protein TDP-43 undergoes a vast array of post-translational modifications, including phosphorylation, acetylation, and cleavage. Many of these alterations may directly contribute to the pathogenesis of TDP-43 proteinopathies, which include most forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and approximately half of all frontotemporal dementia, pathologically identified as frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) with TDP-43 pathology. However, the relative contributions of the various TDP-43 post-translational modifications to disease remain unclear, and indeed some may be secondary epiphenomena rather than disease-causative. It is therefore critical to determine the involvement of each modification in disease processes to allow the design of targeted treatments. In particular, TDP-43 C-terminal fragments (CTFs) accumulate in the brains of people with ALS and FTLD and are therefore described as a neuropathological signature of these diseases. Remarkably, these TDP-43 CTFs are rarely observed in the spinal cord, even in ALS which involves dramatic degeneration of spinal motor neurons. Therefore, TDP-43 CTFs are not produced non-specifically in the course of all forms of TDP-43-related neurodegeneration, but rather variably arise due to additional factors influenced by regional heterogeneity in the central nervous system. In this review, we summarize how TDP-43 CTFs are generated and degraded by cells, and critique evidence from studies of TDP-43 CTF pathology in human disease tissues, as well as cell and animal models, to analyze the pathophysiological relevance of TDP-43 CTFs to ALS and FTLD. Numerous studies now indicate that, although TDP-43 CTFs are prevalent in ALS and FTLD brains, disease-related pathology is only variably reproduced in TDP-43 CTF cell culture models. Furthermore, TDP-43 CTF expression in both transgenic and viral-mediated in vivo models largely fails to induce motor or behavioral dysfunction reminiscent of human disease. We therefore conclude that although TDP-43 CTFs are a hallmark of TDP-43-related neurodegeneration in the brain, they are not a primary cause of ALS or FTLD.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number335
    Pages (from-to)1-27
    Number of pages27
    JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
    Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
    • motor neuron disease (MND)
    • TDP-43
    • neurodegeneration
    • frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD-TDP)


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