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Hexanucleotide repeat expansions in the C9orf72 gene are the most common genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). How this mutation leads to these neurodegenerative diseases remains unclear. Here, we use human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived motor neurons to show that C9orf72 repeat expansions impair microtubule-based transport of mitochondria, a process critical for maintenance of neuronal function. Cargo transport defects are recapitulated by treating healthy neurons with the arginine-rich dipeptide repeat proteins (DPRs) that are produced by the hexanucleotide repeat expansions. Single-molecule imaging shows that these DPRs perturb motility of purified kinesin-1 and cytoplasmic dynein-1 motors along microtubules in vitro . Additional in vitro and in vivo data indicate that the DPRs impair transport by interacting with both microtubules and the motor complexes. We also show that kinesin-1 is enriched in DPR inclusions in patient brains and that increasing the level of this motor strongly suppresses the toxic effects of arginine-rich DPR expression in a Drosophila model. Collectively, our study implicates an inhibitory interaction of arginine-rich DPRs with the axonal transport machinery in C9orf72 -associated ALS/FTD and thereby points to novel potential therapeutic strategies.

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