ALS-Linked Mutations Affect UBQLN2 Oligomerization and Phase Separation in a Position- and Amino Acid-Dependent Manner

Thuy P. Dao, Brian Martyniak, Ashley J. Canning, Yongna Lei, Erica G. Colicino, Michael S. Cosgrove, Heidi Hehnly, Carlos A. Castañeda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Proteasomal shuttle factor UBQLN2 is recruited to stress granules and undergoes liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) into protein-containing droplets. Mutations to UBQLN2 have recently been shown to cause dominant X-linked inheritance of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and ALS/dementia. Interestingly, most of these UBQLN2 mutations reside in its proline-rich (Pxx) region, an important modulator of LLPS. Here, we demonstrated that ALS-linked Pxx mutations differentially affect UBQLN2 LLPS, depending on both amino acid substitution and sequence position. Using size-exclusion chromatography, analytical ultracentrifugation, microscopy, and NMR spectroscopy, we determined that those Pxx mutants that enhanced UBQLN2 oligomerization decreased saturation concentrations needed for LLPS and promoted solid-like and viscoelastic morphological changes to UBQLN2 liquid assemblies. Ubiquitin disassembled all LLPS-induced mutant UBQLN2 aggregates. We postulate that the changes in physical properties caused by ALS-linked Pxx mutations modify UBQLN2 behavior in vivo, possibly contributing to aberrant stress granule morphology and dynamics, leading to formation of inclusions, pathological characteristics of ALS. UBQLN2, part of protein quality control machinery in cells, phase separates under physiological conditions. Dao, Martyniak, et al. show that a subset of ALS-linked mutations in a C-terminal construct of UBQLN2 disrupt phase separation, promote oligomerization, and change the material properties of UBQLN2 droplets in vitro.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)937-951.e5
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 4 2019


  • ALS
  • aggregation
  • liquid-liquid phase separation
  • oligomerization
  • proline-rich
  • protein quality control
  • self-assembly
  • ubiquilin-2
  • ubiquitin
  • viscoelasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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