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Pro-Inflammatory Signaling Upregulates a Neurotoxic Conotoxin-Like Protein Encrypted Within Human Endogenous Retrovirus-K Di Curzio, Domenico; Gurm, Mamneet; Turnbull, Matthew; Nadeau, Marie-Josée; Meek, Breanna; Rempel, Julia D.; Fineblit, Samuel; Jonasson, Michael; Hebert, Sherry; Ferguson-Parry, Jennifer; et al.


Motor neuron degeneration and spinal cord demyelination are hallmark pathological events in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Endogenous retrovirus-K (ERVK) expression has an established association with ALS neuropathology, with murine modeling pointing to a role for the ERVK envelope (env) gene in disease processes. Here, we describe a novel viral protein cryptically encoded within the ERVK env transcript, which resembles two distinct cysteine-rich neurotoxic proteins: conotoxin proteins found in marine snails and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Tat protein. Consistent with Nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB)-induced retrotransposon expression, the ERVK conotoxin-like protein (CTXLP) is induced by inflammatory signaling. CTXLP is found in the nucleus, impacting innate immune gene expression and NF-κB p65 activity. Using human autopsy specimens from patients with ALS, we further showcase CTXLP expression in degenerating motor cortex and spinal cord tissues, concomitant with inflammation linked pathways, including enhancement of necroptosis marker mixed lineage kinase domain-like (MLKL) protein and oligodendrocyte maturation/myelination inhibitor Nogo-A. These findings identify CTXLP as a novel ERVK protein product, which may act as an effector in ALS neuropathology.

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