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Few proteins have come under such intense scrutiny as superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1). For almost a century, scientists have dissected its form, function and then later its malfunction in the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We now know SOD1 is a zinc and copper metalloenzyme that clears superoxide as part of our antioxidant defence and respiratory regulation systems. The possibility of reduced structural integrity was suggested by the first crystal structures of human SOD1 even before deleterious mutations in the sod1 gene were linked to the ALS. This concept evolved in the intervening years as an impressive array of biophysical studies examined the characteristics of mutant SOD1 in great detail. We now recognise how ALS-related mutations perturb the SOD1 maturation processes, reduce its ability to fold and reduce its thermal stability and half-life. Mutant SOD1 is therefore predisposed to monomerisation, non-canonical self-interactions, the formation of small misfolded oligomers and ultimately accumulation in the tell-tale insoluble inclusions found within the neurons of ALS patients. We have also seen that several post-translational modifications could push wild-type SOD1 down this toxic pathway. Recently we have come to view ALS as a prion-like disease where both the symptoms, and indeed SOD1 misfolding itself, are transmitted to neighbouring cells. This raises the possibility of intervention after the initial disease presentation. Several small-molecule and biologic-based strategies have been devised which directly target the SOD1 molecule to change the behaviour thought to be responsible for ALS. Here we provide a comprehensive review of the many biophysical advances that sculpted our view of SOD1 biology and the recent work that aims to apply this knowledge for therapeutic outcomes in ALS.


Gareth S A Wright, Svetlana V Antonyuk, S Samar Hasnain. The biophysics of superoxide dismutase-1 and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Quarterly reviews of biophysics. 2019 Nov 25;52:e12

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PMID: 31760962

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