Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by selective upper and lower motor neuron degeneration, the pathogenesis of which is unknown. About 60%-70% of sporadic ALS patients have a 30%-95% loss of the astroglial glutamate transporter EAAT2 (excitatory amino acid transporter 2) protein in motor cortex and spinal cord. Loss of EAAT2 leads to increased extracellular glutamate and excitotoxic neuronal degeneration. Multiple abnormal EAAT2 mRNAs, including intron-retention and exon-skipping, have now been identified from the affected areas of ALS patients. The aberrant mRNAs were highly abundant and were found only in neuropathologically affected areas of ALS patients but not in other brain regions. They were found in 65% of sporadic ALS patients but were not found in nonneurologic disease or other disease controls. They were also detectable in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of living ALS patients, early in the disease. In vitro expression studies suggest that proteins translated from these aberrant mRNAs may undergo rapid degradation and/or produce a dominant negative effect on normal EAAT2 resulting in loss of protein and activity. These findings suggest that the loss of EAAT2 in ALS is due to aberrant mRNA and that these aberrant mRNAs could result from RNA processing errors. Aberrant RNA processing could be important in the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative disease and in excitotoxicity. The presence of these mRNA species in ALS CSF may have diagnostic utility.
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