Mutations in superoxide dismutase (SOD1) cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of motor neurons and accompanied by accumulation of misfolded SOD1 onto the cytoplasmic faces of intracellular organelles, including mitochondria and the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Using inhibition of misfolded SOD1 deposition onto mitochondria as an assay, a chaperone activity abundant in nonneuronal tissues is now purified and identified to be the multifunctional macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF), whose activities include an ATP-independent protein folding chaperone. Purified MIF is shown to directly inhibit mutant SOD1 misfolding. Elevating MIF in neuronal cells suppresses accumulation of misfolded SOD1 and its association with mitochondria and the ER and extends survival of mutant SOD1-expressing motor neurons. Accumulated MIF protein is identified to be low in motor neurons, implicating correspondingly low chaperone activity as a component of vulnerability to mutant SOD1 misfolding and supporting therapies to enhance intracellular MIF chaperone activity.
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