Mutations in superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1), which are one cause of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (fALS), induce misfolding and aggregation of the protein. Misfolding can be detected by the binding of antibodies raised against peptide epitopes that are normally buried in the native conformation, shifts in solubility in non-ionic detergents, and the formation of macromolecular inclusions. In the present study, we investigate the relationship between detergent-insoluble and sedimentable forms of mutant SOD1, forms of mutant SOD1 with aberrantly accessible epitopes, and mutant protein in inclusions with the goal of defining the spectrum of misfolded states that mutant SOD1 can adopt. Using combined approaches in cultured cell models, we demonstrate that a substantial fraction of mutant SOD1 adopts a non-native conformation that remains soluble and freely mobile. We also show that mutant SOD1 can produce multimeric assemblies of which some are insoluble in detergent and large enough to sediment by ultracentrifugation and some are large enough to detect visually. Three conformationally restricted antibodies were found to be useful in discriminating mal-folded forms of mutant SOD1. An antibody termed C4F6 displays properties consistent with recognition of soluble, freely mobile, mal-folded mutant SOD1. An antibody termed SEDI, which recognizes C-terminal residues, detects larger inclusion structures as well as soluble misfolded entities. An antibody termed hSOD1, which recognizes aa 24-36, detects an epitope shared by soluble non-natively folded WT and mutant SOD1. This epitope becomes inaccessible in aggregates of mutant SOD1. Our studies demonstrate how different methods of detecting misfolding and aggregation of mutant SOD1 reveal different forms of aberrantly folded protein. Immunological and biochemical methods can be used in combination to detect soluble and insoluble misfolded forms of mutant SOD1. Our findings support the view that mutant SOD1 can adopt multiple misfolded conformations with the potential that different structural variants mediate different aspects of fALS.
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