Responding effectively to external stress is crucial for neurons. Defective stress granule dynamics has been hypothesized as one of the pathways that renders motor neurons in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) more prone to early death. Specifically, it is thought that stress granules seed the cytoplasmic TDP-43 inclusions that are observed in the neurons of most ALS patients, as well as about 50% of all frontotemporal dementia (FTD) patients. In this study, we tested this hypothesis in an intact mammalian nervous system. We established an in vivo heat stress paradigm in mice that effectively triggers the eIF2α pathway and the formation of stress granules in the CNS. In non-transgenic mice, we report an age-dependent decline in the formation of heat-induced stress granules, with 18-month-old animals showing a significant impairment. Furthermore, while neuronal stress granules were robustly observed in non-transgenic mice and SOD1G93A mice, they were largely absent in age-matched TDP-43M337V animals. The observed defect in stress granule formation in TDP-43M337V mice correlated with deficits in expression of key protein components typically required for phase separation. Lastly, while TDP-43 was not localized to stress granules, we observed complete nuclear depletion of TDP-43 in a subset of neurons, with the highest proportion being in the TDP-43M337V mice. Overall, our results indicate that mutant TDP-43 expression is associated with defective stress granule assembly and increased TDP-43 nuclear depletion in the mammalian nervous system, which could be relevant to ALS/FTD pathogenesis.
Hum Mol Genet