We report the thermal stability of wild type (WT) and 14 different variants of human copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1) associated with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (FALS). Multiple endothermic unfolding transitions were observed by differential scanning calorimetry for partially metallated SOD1 enzymes isolated from a baculovirus system. We correlated the metal ion contents of SOD1 variants with the occurrence of distinct melting transitions. Altered thermal stability upon reduction of copper with dithionite identified transitions resulting from the unfolding of copper-containing SOD1 species. We demonstrated that copper or zinc binding to a subset of "WT-like" FALS mutants (A4V, L38V, G41S, G72S, D76Y, D90A, G93A, and E133Delta) conferred a similar degree of incremental stabilization as did metal ion binding to WT SOD1. However, these mutants were all destabilized by approximately 1-6 degrees C compared with the corresponding WT SOD1 species. Most of the "metal binding region" FALS mutants (H46R, G85R, D124V, D125H, and S134N) exhibited transitions that probably resulted from unfolding of metal-free species at approximately 4-12 degrees C below the observed melting of the least stable WT species. We conclude that decreased conformational stability shared by all of these mutant SOD1s may contribute to SOD1 toxicity in FALS.
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