Biomolecules (Dec 2021)

A Computational Approach to Investigate TDP-43 RNA-Recognition Motif 2 C-Terminal Fragments Aggregation in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

  • Greta Grassmann,
  • Mattia Miotto,
  • Lorenzo Di Rienzo,
  • Federico Salaris,
  • Beatrice Silvestri,
  • Elsa Zacco,
  • Alessandro Rosa,
  • Gian Gaetano Tartaglia,
  • Giancarlo Ruocco,
  • Edoardo Milanetti

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 12
p. 1905


Read online

Many of the molecular mechanisms underlying the pathological aggregation of proteins observed in neurodegenerative diseases are still not fully understood. Among the aggregate-associated diseases, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is of relevant importance. In fact, although understanding the processes that cause the disease is still an open challenge, its relationship with protein aggregation is widely known. In particular, human TDP-43, an RNA/DNA binding protein, is a major component of the pathological cytoplasmic inclusions observed in ALS patients. Indeed, the deposition of the phosphorylated full-length TDP-43 in spinal cord cells has been widely studied. Moreover, it has also been shown that the brain cortex presents an accumulation of phosphorylated C-terminal fragments (CTFs). Even if it is debated whether the aggregation of CTFs represents a primary cause of ALS, it is a hallmark of TDP-43 related neurodegeneration in the brain. Here, we investigate the CTFs aggregation process, providing a computational model of interaction based on the evaluation of shape complementarity at the molecular interfaces. To this end, extensive Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations were conducted for different types of protein fragments, with the aim of exploring the equilibrium conformations. Adopting a newly developed approach based on Zernike polynomials, able to find complementary regions in the molecular surface, we sampled a large set of solvent-exposed portions of CTFs structures as obtained from MD simulations. Our analysis proposes and assesses a set of possible association mechanisms between the CTFs, which could drive the aggregation process of the CTFs. To further evaluate the structural details of such associations, we perform molecular docking and additional MD simulations to propose possible complexes and assess their stability, focusing on complexes whose interacting regions are both characterized by a high shape complementarity and involve β3 and β5 strands at their interfaces.