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1.  Sequestration of multiple RNA recognition motif-containing proteins by C9orf72 repeat expansions 
Brain  2014;137(7):2040-2051.
Expansion of GGGGCC repeats in C9orf72 causes familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia, but the underlying mechanism is unclear. Using RNA pulldown and immunohistochemistry in ALS biosamples, Cooper-Knock et al. identify proteins that bind to the repeat expansions. Disrupted RNA splicing and/or nuclear export may underlie C9orf72-ALS pathogenesis.
GGGGCC repeat expansions of C9orf72 represent the most common genetic variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal degeneration, but the mechanism of pathogenesis is unclear. Recent reports have suggested that the transcribed repeat might form toxic RNA foci that sequester various RNA processing proteins. Consensus as to the identity of the binding partners is missing and whole neuronal proteome investigation is needed. Using RNA fluorescence in situ hybridization we first identified nuclear and cytoplasmic RNA foci in peripheral and central nervous system biosamples from patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis with a repeat expansion of C9orf72 (C9orf72+), but not from those patients without a repeat expansion of C9orf72 (C9orf72−) or control subjects. Moreover, in the cases examined, the distribution of foci-positive neurons correlated with the clinical phenotype (t-test P < 0.05). As expected, RNA foci are ablated by RNase treatment. Interestingly, we identified foci in fibroblasts from an asymptomatic C9orf72+ carrier. We next performed pulldown assays, with GGGGCC5, in conjunction with mass spectrometry analysis, to identify candidate binding partners of the GGGGCC repeat expansion. Proteins containing RNA recognition motifs and involved in splicing, messenger RNA nuclear export and/or translation were significantly enriched. Immunohistochemistry in central nervous system tissue from C9orf72+ patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis demonstrated co-localization of RNA foci with SRSF2, hnRNP H1/F, ALYREF and hnRNP A1 in cerebellar granule cells and with SRSF2, hnRNP H1/F and ALYREF in motor neurons, the primary target of pathology in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Direct binding of proteins to GGGGCC repeat RNA was confirmed in vitro by ultraviolet-crosslinking assays. Co-localization was only detected in a small proportion of RNA foci, suggesting dynamic sequestration rather than irreversible binding. Additional immunohistochemistry demonstrated that neurons with and without RNA foci were equally likely to show nuclear depletion of TDP-43 (χ2 P = 0.75) or poly-GA dipeptide repeat protein inclusions (χ2 P = 0.46). Our findings suggest two non-exclusive pathogenic mechanisms: (i) functional depletion of RNA-processing proteins resulting in disruption of messenger RNA splicing; and (ii) licensing of expanded C9orf72 pre-messenger RNA for nuclear export by inappropriate association with messenger RNA export adaptor protein(s) leading to cytoplasmic repeat associated non-ATG translation and formation of potentially toxic dipeptide repeat protein.
doi:10.1093/brain/awu120
PMCID: PMC4065024  PMID: 24866055
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; pathology; genetics; fluorescence imaging
2.  Mechanisms, models and biomarkers in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 
The last 30 years have seen a major advance in the understanding of the clinical and pathological heterogeneity of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and its overlap with frontotemporal dementia. Multiple, seemingly disparate biochemical pathways converge on a common clinical syndrome characterized by progressive loss of upper and lower motor neurons. Pathogenic themes in ALS include excitotoxicity, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, neuroinflammation, altered energy metabolism, and most recently RNA mis-processing. The transgenic rodent, overexpressing mutant superoxide dismutase-1, is now only one of several models of ALS pathogenesis. The nematode, fruit fly and zebrafish all offer fresh insight, and the development of induced pluripotent stem cell-derived motor neurons holds promise for the screening of candidate therapeutics. The lack of useful biomarkers in ALS contributes to diagnostic delay, and the inability to stratify patients by prognosis may be an important factor in the failure of therapeutic trials. Biomarkers sensitive to disease activity might lessen reliance on clinical measures and survival as trial endpoints and reduce study length. Emerging proteomic markers of neuronal loss and glial activity in cerebrospinal fluid, a cortical signature derived from advanced structural and functional MRI, and the development of more sensitive measurements of lower motor neuron physiology are leading a new phase of biomarker-driven therapeutic discovery.
doi:10.3109/21678421.2013.778554
PMCID: PMC4284067  PMID: 23678877
ALS; biomarkers; pathogenesis; neuroimaging; neurophysiology
3.  Homozygosity analysis in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 
European Journal of Human Genetics  2013;21(12):1429-1435.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may appear to be familial or sporadic, with recognised dominant and recessive inheritance in a proportion of cases. Sporadic ALS may be caused by rare homozygous recessive mutations. We studied patients and controls from the UK and a multinational pooled analysis of GWAS data on homozygosity in ALS to determine any potential recessive variant leading to the disease. Six-hundred and twenty ALS and 5169 controls were studied in the UK cohort. A total of 7646 homozygosity segments with length >2 Mb were identified, and 3568 rare segments remained after filtering ‘common' segments. The mean total of the autosomal genome with homozygosity segments was longer in ALS than in controls (unfiltered segments, P=0.05). Two-thousand and seventeen ALS and 6918 controls were studied in the pooled analysis. There were more regions of homozygosity segments per case (P=1 × 10−5), a greater proportion of cases harboured homozygosity (P=2 × 10−5), a longer average length of segment (P=1 × 10−5), a longer total genome coverage (P=1 × 10−5), and a higher rate of these segments overlapped with RefSeq gene regions (P=1 × 10−5), in ALS patients than controls. Positive associations were found in three regions. The most significant was in the chromosome 21 SOD1 region, and also chromosome 1 2.9–4.8 Mb, and chromosome 5 in the 65 Mb region. There are more than twenty potential genes in these regions. These findings point to further possible rare recessive genetic causes of ALS, which are not identified as common variants in GWAS.
doi:10.1038/ejhg.2013.59
PMCID: PMC3829775  PMID: 23612577
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; homozygosity; recessive
4.  The Impact on the Family Carer of Motor Neurone Disease and Intervention with Noninvasive Ventilation 
Journal of Palliative Medicine  2013;16(12):1602-1609.
Abstract
Background: The diagnosis of motor neurone disease (MND) has a profound effect on the functioning and well-being of both the patient and their family, with studies describing an increase in carer burden and depression as the disease progresses.
Aim: This study aimed to assess whether patient use of noninvasive ventilation (NIV) impacted on their family carer, and to explore other sources of carer burden.
Design: The study used qualitative interviews and scaled measures of carer health and well-being completed at three monthly intervals until patient end of life.
Participants: Sixteen family carers were followed up over a period ranging from one month to two years.
Results: NIV was perceived as having little impact on carer burden. The data however highlighted a range of sources of other burdens relating to the physical strain of caring. The Medical Outcomes Study Short Form (SF-36 Health Survey) Physical Component Summary (PCS) scores were considerably below that of the Mental Component Summary (MCS) score at baseline and at all following time points. Carers described the physical effort associated with patient care and role change; the challenge inherent in having time away; and problems relating to the timing of equipment and service delivery.
Conclusions: NIV can be recommended to patients without concerns regarding increasing carer burden. The predominant source of burden described related to the physical impact of caring for a patient with MND. Services face challenges if this physical burden is to be reduced by providing equipment at an optimal time and successfully coordinating their input.
doi:10.1089/jpm.2013.0211
PMCID: PMC3868397  PMID: 24236958
5.  A zebrafish model exemplifies the long preclinical period of motor neuron disease 
doi:10.1136/jnnp-2014-308288
PMCID: PMC4215267  PMID: 24970908
ALS; Motor Neuron Disease; Clinical Neurology; Genetics; Neurobiology
6.  Early Detection of Motor Dysfunction in the SOD1G93A Mouse Model of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Using Home Cage Running Wheels 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107918.
The SOD1G93A mouse has been used since 1994 for preclinical testing in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Despite recent genetic advances in our understanding of ALS, transgenic mice expressing mutant SOD1 remain the best available, and most widely used, vertebrate model of the disease. We previously described an optimised and rapid approach for preclinical studies in the SOD1G93A mouse. Here we describe improvements to this approach using home cage running wheels to obtain daily measurements of motor function, with minimal intervention. We show that home cage running wheels detect reductions in motor function at a similar time to the rotarod test, and that the data obtained are less variable allowing the use of smaller groups of animals to obtain satisfactory results. This approach refines use of the SOD1G93A model, and reduces the number of animals undergoing procedures of substantial severity, two central principles of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement of animal use in research). The small group sizes and rapid timescales enable affordable large-scale therapeutic pre-screening in the SOD1G93A mouse, as well as rapid validation of published positive effects in a second laboratory, one of the major stumbling blocks in ALS preclinical therapy development.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107918
PMCID: PMC4182307  PMID: 25268710
7.  Dysregulation of astrocyte–motoneuron cross-talk in mutant superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 
Brain  2011;134(9):2627-2641.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease in which death of motoneurons leads to progressive failure of the neuromuscular system resulting in death frequently within 2–3 years of symptom onset. Focal onset and propagation of the disease symptoms to contiguous motoneuron groups is a striking feature of the human disease progression. Recent work, using mutant superoxide dismutase 1 murine models and in vitro culture systems has indicated that astrocytes are likely to contribute to the propagation of motoneuron injury and disease progression. However, the basis of this astrocyte toxicity and/or failure of motoneuron support has remained uncertain. Using a combination of in vivo and in vitro model systems of superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, linked back to human biosamples, we set out to elucidate how astrocyte properties change in the presence of mutant superoxide dismutase 1 to contribute to motoneuron injury. Gene expression profiling of spinal cord astrocytes from presymptomatic transgenic mice expressing mutant superoxide dismutase 1 revealed two striking changes. First, there was evidence of metabolic dysregulation and, in particular, impairment of the astrocyte lactate efflux transporter, with resultant decrease of spinal cord lactate levels. Second, there was evidence of increased nerve growth factor production and dysregulation of the ratio of pro-nerve growth factor to mature nerve growth factor, favouring p75 receptor expression and activation by neighbouring motoneurons. Functional in vitro studies showed that astrocytes expressing mutant superoxide dismutase 1 are toxic to normal motoneurons. We provide evidence that reduced metabolic support from lactate release and activation of pro-nerve growth factor-p75 receptor signalling are key components of this toxicity. Preservation of motoneuron viability could be achieved by increasing lactate provision to motoneurons, depletion of increased pro-nerve growth factor levels or p75 receptor blockade. These findings are likely to be relevant to human amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, where we have demonstrated increased levels of pro-nerve growth factor in cerebrospinal fluid and increased expression of the p75 receptor by spinal motoneurons. Taken together, these data confirm that altered properties of astrocytes are likely to play a crucial role in the propagation of motoneuron injury in superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and indicate that manipulation of the energy supply to motoneurons as well as inhibition of p75 receptor signalling may represent valuable neuroprotective strategies.
doi:10.1093/brain/awr193
PMCID: PMC3170534  PMID: 21908873
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; astrocytes; microarray; lactate; nerve growth factor
8.  Homozygosity analysis in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 
European journal of human genetics : EJHG  2013;21(12):10.1038/ejhg.2013.59.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may appear to be familial or sporadic, with recognized dominant and recessive inheritance in a proportion of cases. Sporadic ALS may be caused by rare homozygous recessive mutations. We studied patients and controls from the UK and a multinational pooled analysis of GWAS data on homozygosity in ALS to determine any potential recessive variant leading to the disease. 620 ALS and 5169 controls were studied in the UK cohort. A total of 7646 homozygosity segments with length >2Mb were identified, and 3568 rare segments remained after filtering “common” segments. The mean total of the autosomal genome with homozygosity segments was longer in ALS than in controls (unfiltered segments, p=0.05). 2017 ALS and 6918 controls were studied in the pooled analysis. There were more regions of homozygosity segments per case (p=1×10−5), a greater proportion of cases harboured homozygosity (p=2×10−5), a longer average length of segment (p=1×10−5), a longer total genome coverage (p=1×10−5), and a higher rate of these segments overlapped with RefSeq gene regions (p=1×10−5), in ALS patients than controls. Positive associations were found in three regions. The most significant was in the chromosome 21 SOD1 region, and also chromosome 1 2.9Mb to 4.8Mb, and chromosome 5 in the 65Mb region. There are more than twenty potential genes in these regions. These findings point to further possible rare recessive genetic causes of ALS which are not identified as common variants in GWAS.
doi:10.1038/ejhg.2013.59
PMCID: PMC3829775  PMID: 23612577
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; homozygosity; genetics; recessive
9.  C9ORF72 transcription in a frontotemporal dementia case with two expanded alleles 
Neurology  2013;81(19):1719-1721.
Discovery of intronic hexanucleotide repeat expansions of the C9ORF72 gene in a significant proportion of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD)1,2 was an important step for research into these disorders. The C9ORF72 genetic variant is more common than other described mutations and, unlike patients with mutations in SOD1, C9ORF72-ALS clinically and pathologically resembles the more numerous sporadic form.3 However, progress has been limited by lack of understanding of the function of the C9ORF72 locus in health and disease. It is unknown whether the expansion causes disease by a gain of toxicity, or whether it disrupts expression of the wild-type protein encoded by the C9ORF72 gene, or some combination of both mechanisms.1,2,4
doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000435295.41974.2e
PMCID: PMC3812108  PMID: 24107864
10.  TMEM106B is a genetic modifier of frontotemporal lobar degeneration with C9orf72 hexanucleotide repeat expansions 
Acta neuropathologica  2014;127(3):407-418.
Hexanucleotide repeat expansions in chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9orf72) have recently been linked to frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and may be the most common genetic cause of both neurodegenerative diseases. Genetic variants at TMEM106B influence risk for the most common neuropathological subtype of FTLD, characterized by inclusions of TAR DNA binding protein of 43kDa (FTLD-TDP). Previous reports have shown that TMEM106B is a genetic modifier of FTLD-TDP caused by progranulin (GRN) mutations, with the major (risk) allele of rs1990622 associating with earlier age at onset of disease. Here we report that rs1990622 genotype affects age at death in a single-site discovery cohort of FTLD patients with C9orf72 expansions (n=14), with the major allele correlated with later age at death (p=0.024). We replicate this modifier effect in a 30-site international neuropathological cohort of FTLD-TDP patients with C9orf72 expansions (n=75), again finding that the major allele associates with later age at death (p=0.016), as well as later age at onset (p=0.019). In contrast, TMEM106B genotype does not affect age at onset or death in 241 FTLD-TDP cases negative for GRN mutations or C9orf72 expansions. Thus, TMEM106B is a genetic modifier of FTLD with C9orf72 expansions. Intriguingly, the genotype that confers increased risk for developing FTLD-TDP (major, or T, allele of rs1990622) is associated with later age at onset and death in C9orf72 expansion carriers, providing an example of sign epistasis in human neurodegenerative disease.
doi:10.1007/s00401-013-1239-x
PMCID: PMC4003885  PMID: 24442578
TMEM106B; C9orf72; frontotemporal dementia; frontotemporal lobar degeneration; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; genetic modifier
11.  An Evaluation of a SVA Retrotransposon in the FUS Promoter as a Transcriptional Regulator and Its Association to ALS 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e90833.
Genetic mutations of FUS have been linked to many diseases including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration. A primate specific and polymorphic retrotransposon of the SINE-VNTR-Alu (SVA) family is present upstream of the FUS gene. Here we have demonstrated that this retrotransposon can act as a classical transcriptional regulatory domain in the context of a reporter gene construct both in vitro in the human SK-N-AS neuroblastoma cell line and in vivo in a chick embryo model. We have also demonstrated that the SVA is composed of multiple distinct regulatory domains, one of which is a variable number tandem repeat (VNTR). The ability of the SVA and its component parts to direct reporter gene expression supported a hypothesis that this region could direct differential FUS expression in vivo. The SVA may therefore contribute to the modulation of FUS expression exhibited in and associated with neurological disorders including ALS where FUS regulation may be an important parameter in progression of the disease. As VNTRs are often clinical associates for disease progression we determined the extent of polymorphism within the SVA. In total 2 variants of the SVA were identified based within a central VNTR. Preliminary analysis addressed the association of these SVA variants within a small sporadic ALS cohort but did not reach statistical significance, although we did not include other parameters such as SNPs within the SVA or an environmental factor in this analysis. The latter may be particularly important as the transcriptional and epigenetic properties of the SVA are likely to be directed by the environment of the cell.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090833
PMCID: PMC3946630  PMID: 24608899
12.  The widening spectrum of C9ORF72-related disease; genotype/phenotype correlations and potential modifiers of clinical phenotype 
Acta Neuropathologica  2014;127(3):333-345.
The GGGGCC (G4C2) repeat expansion in C9ORF72 is the most common cause of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTLD) and ALS–FTLD, as well as contributing to sporadic forms of these diseases. Screening of large cohorts of ALS and FTLD cohorts has identified that C9ORF72-ALS is represented throughout the clinical spectrum of ALS phenotypes, though in comparison with other genetic subtypes, C9ORF72 carriers have a higher incidence of bulbar onset disease. In contrast, C9ORF72-FTLD is predominantly associated with behavioural variant FTD, which often presents with psychosis, most commonly in the form of hallucinations and delusions. However, C9ORF72 expansions are not restricted to these clinical phenotypes. There is a higher than expected incidence of parkinsonism in ALS patients with C9ORF72 expansions, and the G4C2 repeat has also been reported in other motor phenotypes, such as primary lateral sclerosis, progressive muscular atrophy, corticobasal syndrome and Huntington-like disorders. In addition, the expansion has been identified in non-motor phenotypes including Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia. It is not currently understood what is the basis of the clinical variation seen with the G4C2 repeat expansion. One potential explanation is repeat length. Sizing of the expansion by Southern blotting has established that there is somatic heterogeneity, with different expansion lengths in different tissues, even within the brain. To date, no correlation with expansion size and clinical phenotype has been established in ALS, whilst in FTLD only repeat size in the cerebellum was found to correlate with disease duration. Somatic heterogeneity suggests there is a degree of instability within the repeat and evidence of anticipation has been reported with reducing age of onset in subsequent generations. This variability/instability in expansion length, along with its interactions with environmental and genetic modifiers, such as TMEM106B, may be the basis of the differing clinical phenotypes arising from the mutation.
doi:10.1007/s00401-014-1251-9
PMCID: PMC3925297  PMID: 24493408
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Frontotemporal lobar dementia; C9ORF72; G4C2 expansion; Phenotypic variation; Genetic modifiers
13.  Early interneuron dysfunction in ALS: Insights from a mutant sod1 zebrafish model 
Annals of neurology  2012;73(2):246-258.
Objectives
To determine, when, how and which neurons initiate the onset of pathophysiology in ALS using a transgenic mutant sod1 zebrafish model and identify neuroprotective drugs.
Methods
Proteinopathies like ALS involve mutant proteins that misfold and activate the heatshock stress response (HSR). The HSR is indicative of neuronal stress and we use a fluorescent hsp70-DsRed reporter in our transgenic zebrafish to track neuronal stress and to measure functional changes in neurons and muscle over the course of the disease.
Results
We show that mutant sod1 fish first exhibit the HSR in glycinergic interneurons at 24 hours post fertilization (hpf). By 96 hpf, we observe a significant reduction in spontaneous glycinergic currents induced in spinal motor neurons. The loss of inhibition is followed by increased stress in the motor neurons of symptomatic adults and concurrent morphological changes at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) indicative of denervation. Riluzole, the only approved ALS drug and apomorphine, an NRF2 activator, reduce the observed early neuronal stress response.
Interpretation
The earliest event in the pathophysiology of ALS in the mutant sod1 zebrafish model involves neuronal stress in inhibitory interneurons, resulting from mutant Sod1 expression. This is followed by a reduction in inhibitory input to motor neurons. The loss of inhibitory input may contribute to the later development of neuronal stress in motor neurons and concurrent inability to maintain the NMJ. Riluzole, the approved drug for use in ALS, modulates neuronal stress in interneurons, indicating a novel mechanism of riluzole action.
doi:10.1002/ana.23780
PMCID: PMC3608830  PMID: 23281025
14.  Comparison of Blood RNA Extraction Methods Used for Gene Expression Profiling in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e87508.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that causes death within a mean of 2–3 years from symptom onset. There is no diagnostic test and the delay from symptom onset to diagnosis averages 12 months. The identification of prognostic and diagnostic biomarkers in ALS would facilitate earlier diagnosis and faster monitoring of treatments. Gene expression profiling (GEP) can help to identify these markers as well as therapeutic targets in neurological diseases. One source of genetic material for GEP in ALS is peripheral blood, which is routinely accessed from patients. However, a high proportion of globin mRNA in blood can mask important genetic information. A number of methods allow safe collection, storage and transport of blood as well as RNA stabilisation, including the PAXGENE and TEMPUS systems for the collection of whole blood and LEUKOLOCK which enriches for the leukocyte population. Here we compared these three systems and assess their suitability for GEP in ALS. We collected blood from 8 sporadic ALS patients and 7 controls. PAXGENE and TEMPUS RNA extracted samples additionally underwent globin depletion using GlobinClear. RNA was amplified and hybridised onto Affymetrix U133 Plus 2.0 arrays. Lists of genes differentially regulated in ALS patients and controls were created for each method using the R package PUMA, and RT-PCR validation was carried out on selected genes. TEMPUS/GlobinClear, and LEUKOLOCK produced high quality RNA with sufficient yield, and consistent array expression profiles. PAXGENE/GlobinClear yield and quality were lower. Globin depletion for PAXGENE and TEMPUS uncovered the presence of over 60% more transcripts than when samples were not depleted. TEMPUS/GlobinClear and LEUKOLOCK gene lists respectively contained 3619 and 3047 genes differentially expressed between patients and controls. Real-time PCR validation revealed similar reliability between these two methods and gene ontology analyses revealed similar pathways differentially regulated in disease compared to controls.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087508
PMCID: PMC3903649  PMID: 24475299
15.  The C9ORF72 expansion mutation is a common cause of ALS+/−FTD in Europe and has a single founder 
A massive hexanucleotide repeat expansion mutation (HREM) in C9ORF72 has recently been linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Here we describe the frequency, origin and stability of this mutation in ALS+/−FTD from five European cohorts (total n=1347). Single-nucleotide polymorphisms defining the risk haplotype in linked kindreds were genotyped in cases (n=434) and controls (n=856). Haplotypes were analysed using PLINK and aged using DMLE+. In a London clinic cohort, the HREM was the most common mutation in familial ALS+/−FTD: C9ORF72 29/112 (26%), SOD1 27/112 (24%), TARDBP 1/112 (1%) and FUS 4/112 (4%) and detected in 13/216 (6%) of unselected sporadic ALS cases but was rare in controls (3/856, 0.3%). HREM prevalence was high for familial ALS+/−FTD throughout Europe: Belgium 19/22 (86%), Sweden 30/41 (73%), the Netherlands 10/27 (37%) and Italy 4/20 (20%). The HREM did not affect the age at onset or survival of ALS patients. Haplotype analysis identified a common founder in all 137 HREM carriers that arose around 6300 years ago. The haplotype from which the HREM arose is intrinsically unstable with an increased number of repeats (average 8, compared with 2 for controls, P<10−8). We conclude that the HREM has a single founder and is the most common mutation in familial and sporadic ALS in Europe.
doi:10.1038/ejhg.2012.98
PMCID: PMC3522204  PMID: 22692064
ALS; common founder; C9ORF72
16.  A new zebrafish model produced by TILLING of SOD1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis replicates key features of the disease and represents a tool for in vivo therapeutic screening 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2013;7(1):73-81.
Mutations in the superoxide dismutase gene (SOD1) are one cause of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS; also known as motor neuron disease (MND)] in humans. ALS is a relentlessly progressive neurodegenerative disease and, to date, there are no neuroprotective therapies with significant impact on the disease course. Current transgenic murine models of the disease, which overexpress mutant SOD1, have so far been ineffective in the identification of new therapies beneficial in the human disease. Because the human and the zebrafish (Danio rerio) SOD1 protein share 76% identity, TILLING (‘targeting induced local lesions in genomes’) was carried out in collaboration with the Sanger Institute in order to identify mutations in the zebrafish sod1 gene. A T70I mutant zebrafish line was characterised using oxidative stress assays, neuromuscular junction (NMJ) analysis and motor function studies. The T70I sod1 zebrafish model offers the advantage over current murine models of expressing the mutant Sod1 protein at a physiological level, as occurs in humans with ALS. The T70I sod1 zebrafish demonstrates key features of ALS: an early NMJ phenotype, susceptibility to oxidative stress and an adult-onset motor neuron disease phenotype. We have demonstrated that the susceptibility of T70I sod1 embryos to oxidative stress can be used in a drug screening assay, to identify compounds that merit further investigation as potential therapies for ALS.
doi:10.1242/dmm.012013
PMCID: PMC3882050  PMID: 24092880
MND; ALS; SOD1; Zebrafish
17.  Assessing social isolation in motor neurone disease: A Rasch analysis of the MND Social Withdrawal Scale☆ 
Journal of the Neurological Sciences  2013;334(1-2):112-118.
Objective
Social withdrawal is described as the condition in which an individual experiences a desire to make social contact, but is unable to satisfy that desire. It is an important issue for patients with motor neurone disease who are likely to experience severe physical impairment. This study aims to reassess the psychometric and scaling properties of the MND Social Withdrawal Scale (MND-SWS) domains and examine the feasibility of a summary scale, by applying scale data to the Rasch model.
Methods
The MND Social Withdrawal Scale was administered to 298 patients with a diagnosis of MND, alongside the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. The factor structure of the MND Social Withdrawal Scale was assessed using confirmatory factor analysis. Model fit, category threshold analysis, differential item functioning (DIF), dimensionality and local dependency were evaluated.
Results
Factor analysis confirmed the suitability of the four-factor solution suggested by the original authors. Mokken scale analysis suggested the removal of item five. Rasch analysis removed a further three items; from the Community (one item) and Emotional (two items) withdrawal subscales. Following item reduction, each scale exhibited excellent fit to the Rasch model.
A 14-item Summary scale was shown to fit the Rasch model after subtesting the items into three subtests corresponding to the Community, Family and Emotional subscales, indicating that items from these three subscales could be summed together to create a total measure for social withdrawal.
Conclusion
Removal of four items from the Social Withdrawal Scale led to a four factor solution with a 14-item hierarchical Summary scale that were all unidimensional, free for DIF and well fitted to the Rasch model. The scale is reliable and allows clinicians and researchers to measure social withdrawal in MND along a unidimensional construct.
doi:10.1016/j.jns.2013.08.002
PMCID: PMC3837185  PMID: 24011605
Social withdrawal; Rasch analysis; Psychological distress; ALS; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; MND; Motor neurone disease
18.  Wild-type but not mutant SOD1 transgenic astrocytes promote the efficient generation of motor neuron progenitors from mouse embryonic stem cells 
BMC Neuroscience  2013;14:126.
Background
The efficient derivation of mature (Hb9+) motor neurons from embryonic stem cells is a sought-after goal in the understanding, and potential treatment, of motor neuron diseases. Conditions that promote the robust generation of motor neuron progenitors from embryonic stem cells and that promote the survival of differentiated motor neurons ex vivo are likely, therefore, to be critical in future biological/therapeutic/screening approaches. Previous studies have shown that astrocytes have a protective effect on differentiated motor neurons (in vivo and ex vivo), but it remains unclear whether astrocytes also play a beneficial role in the support of motor neuron progenitors. Here we explore the effect of murine astrocyte-conditioned medium on monolayer cultures of mouse embryonic stem cell-derived motor neuron progenitors.
Results
Our data show that wild-type astrocyte-conditioned medium significantly increases the number of Olig2+/Hb9- progenitors, which subsequently differentiate into Hb9+/Islet1+ post-mitotic motor neurons. Intriguingly, while astrocyte-conditioned medium derived from mice transgenic for wild-type human SOD1 mimics the effect of wild-type astrocytes, conditioned medium derived from astrocytes carrying an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-related SOD1-G93A mutation shows no such beneficial effect. The effect of astrocyte-conditioned medium, moreover, is specific to motor neurons: we find that interneurons generated from mouse embryonic stem cells are unaffected by conditioned media from any type of astrocyte.
Conclusions
Our study indicates that conditioned medium derived from wild type astrocytes enhances the efficient generation of motor neurons from mouse embryonic stem cells by enhancing motor neuron progenitors. In contrast, conditioned medium from SOD1-G93A astrocytes does not show a similar enhancing effect.
doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-126
PMCID: PMC3853012  PMID: 24134124
ES cells; G93A astrocytes; Motor neuron; Progenitor; Differentiation; ALS
19.  Residual association at C9orf72 suggests an alternative amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-causing hexanucleotide repeat 
Neurobiology of Aging  2013;34(9):2234.e1-2234.e7.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease of motor neurons. Single-nucleotide polymorphism rs3849942 is associated with ALS, tagging a hexanucleotide repeat mutation in the C9orf72 gene. It is possible that there is more than 1 disease-causing genetic variation at this locus, in which case association might remain after removal of cases carrying the mutation. DNA from patients with ALS was therefore tested for the mutation. Genome-wide association testing was performed first using all samples, and then restricting the analysis to samples not carrying the mutation. rs3849942 and rs903603 were strongly associated with ALS when all samples were included (rs3849942, p = [3 × 2] × 10−6, rank 7/442,057; rs903603, p = [7 × 6] × 10−8, rank 2/442,057). Removal of the mutation-carrying cases resulted in loss of association for rs3849942 (p = [2 × 6] × 10−3, rank 1225/442,068), but had little effect on rs903603 (p = [1 × 9] × 10−5, rank 8/442,068). Those with a risk allele of rs903603 had an excess of apparent homozygosity for wild type repeat alleles, consistent with polymerase chain reaction failure of 1 allele because of massive repeat expansion. These results indicate residual association at the C9orf72 locus suggesting a second disease-causing repeat mutation.
doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2013.03.003
PMCID: PMC3753508  PMID: 23587638
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Genetics; C9orf72; Hexanucleotide repeat mutation; GWAS; Residual association
20.  S[+] Apomorphine is a CNS penetrating activator of the Nrf2-ARE pathway with activity in mouse and patient fibroblast models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis☆ 
Free Radical Biology & Medicine  2013;61(100):438-452.
Compelling evidence indicates that oxidative stress contributes to motor neuron injury in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but antioxidant therapies have not yet achieved therapeutic benefit in the clinic. The nuclear erythroid 2-related-factor 2 (Nrf2) transcription factor is a key regulator of an important neuroprotective response by driving the expression of multiple cytoprotective genes via its interaction with the antioxidant response element (ARE). Dysregulation of the Nrf2-ARE system has been identified in ALS models and human disease. Taking the Nrf2-ARE pathway as an attractive therapeutic target for neuroprotection in ALS, we aimed to identify CNS penetrating, small molecule activators of Nrf2-mediated transcription in a library of 2000 drugs and natural products. Compounds were screened extensively for Nrf2 activation, and antioxidant and neuroprotective properties in vitro. S[+]-Apomorphine, a receptor-inactive enantiomer of the clinically approved dopamine-receptor agonist (R[–]-apomorphine), was identified as a nontoxic Nrf2 activating molecule. In vivo S[+]-apomorphine demonstrated CNS penetrance, Nrf2 induction, and significant attenuation of motor dysfunction in the SOD1G93A transgenic mouse model of ALS. S[+]-apomorphine also reduced pathological oxidative stress and improved survival following an oxidative insult in fibroblasts from ALS patients. This molecule emerges as a promising candidate for evaluation as a potential neuroprotective agent in ALS patients in the clinic.
doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2013.04.018
PMCID: PMC3684770  PMID: 23608463
ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; ARE, antioxidant response element; carboxy-H2DCFDA, 6-carboxy-2′,7′-dichlorodihydrofluorescein diacetate; CNS, central nervous system; DCF, dichlorofluorescein; MEFs, mouse embryonic fibroblasts; Nrf2, nuclear erythroid 2-related-factor 2; PBPK, physiologically based pharmacokinetic; Q-RTPCR, quantitative RT-PCR; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; motor neurone disease; Nrf2; preclinical pharmacology; neurodegeneration
21.  The Effect of SOD1 Mutation on Cellular Bioenergetic Profile and Viability in Response to Oxidative Stress and Influence of Mutation-Type 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e68256.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the progressive degeneration of motor neurons. Substantial evidence implicates oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction as early events in disease progression. Our aim was to ascertain whether mutation of the SOD1 protein increases metabolic functional susceptibility to oxidative stress. Here we used a motor neuron-like cell line (NSC34) stably transfected with various human mutant SOD1 transgenes (G93A, G37R, H48Q) to investigate the impact of oxidative stress on cell viability and metabolic function within intact cells. NSC34 cells expressing mutant SOD1 showed a dose dependent reduction in cell viability when exposed to oxidative stress induced by hydrogen peroxide, with variation between mutations. The G93A transfectants showed greater cell death and LDH release compared to cells transfected with the other SOD1 mutations, and H48Q showed an accelerated decline at later time points. Differences in mitochondrial bioenergetics, including mitochondrial respiration, coupling efficiency and proton leak, were identified between the mutations, consistent with the differences observed in viability. NSC34 cells expressing G93A SOD1 displayed reduced coupled respiration and mitochondrial membrane potential compared to controls. Furthermore, the G93A mutation had significantly increased metabolic susceptibility to oxidative stress, with hydrogen peroxide increasing ROS production, reducing both cellular oxygen consumption and glycolytic flux in the cell. This study highlights bioenergetic defects within a cellular model of ALS and suggests that oxidative stress is not only detrimental to oxygen consumption but also glycolytic flux, which could lead to an energy deficit in the cell.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068256
PMCID: PMC3695905  PMID: 23840839
22.  Simultaneous and independent detection of C9ORF72 alleles with low and high number of GGGGCC repeats using an optimised protocol of Southern blot hybridisation 
Background
Sizing of GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat expansions within the C9ORF72 locus, which account for approximately 10% of all amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases, is urgently required to answer fundamental questions about mechanisms of pathogenesis in this important genetic variant. Currently employed PCR protocols are limited to discrimination between the presence and absence of a modified allele with more than 30 copies of the repeat, while Southern hybridisation-based methods are confounded by the somatic heterogeneity commonly present in blood samples, which might cause false-negative or ambiguous results.
Results
We describe an optimised Southern hybridisation-based protocol that allows confident detection of the presence of a C9ORF72 repeat expansion alongside independent assessment of its heterogeneity and the number of repeat units. The protocol can be used with either a radiolabeled or non-radiolabeled probe. Using this method we have successfully sized the C9ORF72 repeat expansion in lymphoblastoid cells, peripheral blood, and post-mortem central nervous system (CNS) tissue from ALS patients. It was also possible to confidently demonstrate the presence of repeat expansion, although of different magnitude, in both C9ORF72 alleles of the genome of one patient.
Conclusions
The suggested protocol has sufficient advantages to warrant adoption as a standard for Southern blot hybridisation analysis of GGGGCC repeat expansions in the C9ORF72 locus.
doi:10.1186/1750-1326-8-12
PMCID: PMC3626718  PMID: 23566336
C9ORF72; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Southern hybridisation
23.  Clinico-pathological features in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis with expansions in C9ORF72 
Brain  2012;135(3):751-764.
Intronic expansion of the GGGGCC hexanucleotide repeat within the C9ORF72 gene causes frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease in both familial and sporadic cases. Initial reports indicate that this variant within the frontotemporal dementia/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis spectrum is associated with transactive response DNA binding protein (TDP-43) proteinopathy. The amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease phenotype is not yet well characterized. We report the clinical and pathological phenotypes associated with pathogenic C9ORF72 mutations in a cohort of 563 cases from Northern England, including 63 with a family history of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. One hundred and fifty-eight cases from the cohort (21 familial, 137 sporadic) were post-mortem brain and spinal cord donors. We screened DNA for the C9ORF72 mutation, reviewed clinical case histories and undertook pathological evaluation of brain and spinal cord. Control DNA samples (n = 361) from the same population were also screened. The C9ORF72 intronic expansion was present in 62 cases [11% of the cohort; 27/63 (43%) familial, 35/500 (7%) cases with sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease]. Disease duration was significantly shorter in cases with C9ORF72-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (30.5 months) compared with non-C9ORF72 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease (36.3 months, P < 0.05). C9ORF72 cases included both limb and bulbar onset disease and all cases showed combined upper and lower motor neuron degeneration (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Thus, clinically, C9ORF72 cases show the features of a relatively rapidly progressive, but otherwise typical, variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis associated with both familial and sporadic presentations. Dementia was present in the patient or a close family member in 22/62 cases with C9ORF72 mutation (35%) based on diagnoses established from retrospective clinical case note review that may underestimate significant cognitive changes in late disease. All the C9ORF72 mutation cases showed classical amyotrophic lateral sclerosis pathology with TDP-43 inclusions in spinal motor neurons. Neuronal cytoplasmic inclusions and glial inclusions positive for p62 immunostaining in non-motor regions were strongly over-represented in the C9ORF72 cases. Extra-motor pathology in the frontal cortex (P < 0.0005) and the hippocampal CA4 subfield neurons (P < 0.0005) discriminated C9ORF72 cases strongly from the rest of the cohort. Inclusions in CA4 neurons were not present in non-C9ORF72 cases, indicating that this pathology predicts mutation status.
doi:10.1093/brain/awr365
PMCID: PMC3286332  PMID: 22366792
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; C9ORF72; dementia; neurodegeneration
24.  Tardbpl splicing rescues motor neuron and axonal development in a mutant tardbp zebrafish 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;22(12):2376-2386.
Mutations in the transactive response DNA binding protein-43 (TARDBP/TDP-43) gene, which regulates transcription and splicing, causes a familial form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Here, we characterize and report the first tardbp mutation in zebrafish, which introduces a premature stop codon (Y220X), eliminating expression of the Tardbp protein. Another TARDBP ortholog, tardbpl, in zebrafish is shown to encode a Tardbp-like protein which is truncated compared with Tardbp itself and lacks part of the C-terminal glycine-rich domain (GRD). Here, we show that tardbp mutation leads to the generation of a novel tardbpl splice form (tardbpl-FL) capable of making a full-length Tardbp protein (Tardbpl-FL), which compensates for the loss of Tardbp. This finding provides a novel in vivo model to study TDP-43-mediated splicing regulation. Additionally, we show that elimination of both zebrafish TARDBP orthologs results in a severe motor phenotype with shortened motor axons, locomotion defects and death at around 10 days post fertilization. The Tardbp/Tardbpl knockout model generated in this study provides an excellent in vivo system to study the role of the functional loss of Tardbp and its involvement in ALS pathogenesis.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddt082
PMCID: PMC3658164  PMID: 23427147

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