Benoit Coulombe, director of the Proteomics and Gene Transcription Laboratory at the University of Montréal in Quebec, Canada, was awarded an MDA research grant totaling $377,067 over a period of three years to study the regulation of a protein whose gene, when mutated, can cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and inclusion-body myositis (IBM).
Valosin Containing Protein (VCP) helps clear misfolded proteins so that they do not cause damage within cells. Mutations in the VCP gene that interfere with this function are one cause of both ALS and IBM.
VCP is a type of protein called a molecular chaperone. “Building a detailed understanding of the mechanisms by which molecular chaperones play a role in the onset and development of neuromuscular disorders is important for the design of new tools to better diagnose and treat some of these conditions,” Coulombe says.
Recently, his group discovered that a set of proteins called methyltransferases regulates the activity of VCP, raising the possibility that this regulatory system may go awry when VCP is mutated. By studying the activity of methyltransferases and VCP in both healthy and diseased cells, Coulombe hopes to learn more about the regulation of chaperones and how it is affected by disease-causing mutations.
The goal is to examine the full range of changes brought about by methyltransferase activity, using state-of-the-art tools to capture and characterize the set of protein modifications in cells. Coulombe also will explore whether changes in VCP and the proteins with which it interacts can serve as a “biomarker,” helping to identify diseased cells and following their response to treatment.
“Characterizing these newly discovered enzymes will help us understand the molecular bases of these disorders and accelerate the development of diagnosis and therapeutic tools relevant to their treatment,” he says.
Funding for this MDA grant began Feb. 1, 2013.