Autosomal-dominant adult-onset neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (ANCL) is caused by mutation of the DNAJC5 gene encoding cysteine string protein alpha (CSPα). The disease-causing mutations, which result in substitution of leucine-115 with an arginine (L115R) or deletion of the neighbouring leucine-116 (ΔL116) in the cysteine-string domain cause CSPα to form high molecular weight SDS-resistant aggregates, which are also present in post-mortem brain tissue from patients. Formation and stability of these mutant aggregates is linked to palmitoylation of the cysteine-string domain, however the regions of the mutant proteins that drive aggregation have not been determined. The importance of specific residues in the cysteine-string domain was investigated, revealing that a central core of palmitoylated cysteines is essential for aggregation of ANCL CSPα mutants. Interestingly, palmitoylated monomers of ANCL CSPα mutants were shown to be short-lived compared with wildtype CSPα, suggesting that the mutants either have a faster rate of depalmitoylation or that they are consumed in a time-dependent manner into high molecular weight aggregates. These findings provide new insight into the features of CSPα that promote aggregation in the presence of L115R/AL116 mutations and reveal a change in the lifetime of palmitoylated monomers of the mutant proteins.
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