Two genetically distinct types of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are linked to chromosome 17q21. FTD with parkinsonism (FTDP-17) results from mutations in the gene encoding microtubule associated protein tau (MAPT) and is associated with tau deposition in the patients brain. An increasing number of FTD families are linked to 17q21 in the absence of a demonstrable MAPT mutation. Brains of these patients do not show tau deposits, but tau-negative intra- and perinuclear inclusions of unknown composition that are immunoreactive to ubiquitin (FTDU-17). These ubiquitin inclusions are located in the cytoplasm or nucleus of predominantly neuronal cells of affected brain regions. By extensive segregation analyses in conclusively linked FTDU-17 families, the candidate region was reduced to a 6.2 Mb segment containing MAPT; however, genomic sequencing of MAPT in FTDU-17 patients excluded disease-causing mutations. Further, the linked region was characterized by the presence of multiple low-copy repeat regions associated with genomic instability. However, we excluded genomic rearrangements as the cause of FTDU-17. Subsequent sequencing of positional candidate genes identified loss-of-function mutations in the gene encoding progranulin (PGRN), a growth factor involved in multiple physiological processes such as cellular proliferation and survival and tissue repair, and pathological processes including tumorigenesis. In a Belgian FTD patient series, the prevalence of PGRN mutations was 3.5 times higher than that of MAPT mutations underscoring a major role for PGRN in FTD pathogenesis. Together, mutation data provided convincing evidence that PGRN haploinsufficiency leads to neurodegeneration because of reduced PGRN-mediated neuronal survival. The PGRN protein is not deposited in the ubiquitin-positive inclusions, the nature of which remains unknown. Due to the functions of PGRN in neuronal survival and the clinicopathological overlaps between FTD and other dementias it is likely that reduced PGRN expression is associated with the progression of other neurodegenerative brain diseases including Alzheimers disease. These findings open promising novel targets for therapeutic intervention against neurodegeneration.
Keywords: Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), microtubule associated protein tau (MAPT), progranulin (PGRN), ubiquitinpositive tau-negative inclusions, human chromosome 17q21
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