Chaperoning the chaperones: Proteomic analysis of the SMN complex reveals conserved and etiologic connections to the proteostasis network

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Molecular chaperones and co-chaperones are highly conserved cellular components that perform variety of duties related to the proper three-dimensional folding of the proteome. The web of factors that carries out this essential task is called the proteostasis network (PN). Ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) represent an underexplored area in terms of the connections they make with the PN. The Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) complex is an RNP assembly chaperone and serves as a paradigm for studying how specific small nuclear (sn)RNAs are identified and paired with their client substrate proteins. SMN protein is the eponymous component of a large complex required for the biogenesis of uridine-rich small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (U-snRNPs) and localizes to distinct membraneless organelles in both the nucleus and cytoplasm of animal cells. SMN forms the oligomeric core of this complex, and missense mutations in its YG box self-interaction domain are known to cause Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). The basic framework for understanding how snRNAs are assembled into U-snRNPs is known, the pathways and mechanisms used by cells to regulate their biogenesis are poorly understood. Given the importance of these processes to normal development as well as neurodegenerative disease, we set out to identify and characterize novel SMN binding partners.

Here, we carried out affinity purification mass spectrometry (AP-MS) of SMN using stable fly lines exclusively expressing either wildtype or SMA-causing missense alleles. Bioinformatic analyses of the pulldown data, along with comparisons to proximity labeling studies carried out in human cells, revealed conserved connections to at least two other major chaperone systems including heat shock folding chaperones (HSPs) and histone/nucleosome assembly chaperones. Notably, we found that heat shock cognate protein Hsc70-4 and other HspA family members preferentially interacted with SMA-causing alleles of SMN. Hsc70-4 is particularly interesting because its mRNA is aberrantly sequestered by a mutant form of TDP-43 in mouse and Drosophila ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) disease models. Most important, a missense allele of Hsc70-4 (HspA8 in mammals) was recently identified as a bypass suppressor of the SMA phenotype in mice. Collectively, these findings suggest that chaperone-related dysfunction lies at the etiological root of both ALS and SMA.

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