Many neurological conditions are caused by immensely heterogeneous gene mutations. The diagnostic process is often long and complex with most patients undergoing multiple invasive and costly investigations without ever reaching a conclusive molecular diagnosis. The advent of massively parallel, next-generation sequencing promises to revolutionize genetic testing and shorten the ‘diagnostic odyssey’ for many of these patients. We performed a pilot study using heterogeneous ataxias as a model neurogenetic disorder to assess the introduction of next-generation sequencing into clinical practice. We captured 58 known human ataxia genes followed by Illumina Next-Generation Sequencing in 50 highly heterogeneous patients with ataxia who had been extensively investigated and were refractory to diagnosis. All cases had been tested for spinocerebellar ataxia 1–3, 6, 7 and Friedrich’s ataxia and had multiple other biochemical, genetic and invasive tests. In those cases where we identified the genetic mutation, we determined the time to diagnosis. Pathogenicity was assessed using a bioinformatics pipeline and novel variants were validated using functional experiments. The overall detection rate in our heterogeneous cohort was 18% and varied from 8.3% in those with an adult onset progressive disorder to 40% in those with a childhood or adolescent onset progressive disorder. The highest detection rate was in those with an adolescent onset and a family history (75%). The majority of cases with detectable mutations had a childhood onset but most are now adults, reflecting the long delay in diagnosis. The delays were primarily related to lack of easily available clinical testing, but other factors included the presence of atypical phenotypes and the use of indirect testing. In the cases where we made an eventual diagnosis, the delay was 3–35 years (mean 18.1 years). Alignment and coverage metrics indicated that the capture and sequencing was highly efficient and the consumable cost was ∼£400 (€460 or US$620). Our pathogenicity interpretation pathway predicted 13 different mutations in eight different genes: PRKCG, TTBK2, SETX, SPTBN2, SACS, MRE11, KCNC3 and DARS2 of which nine were novel including one causing a newly described recessive ataxia syndrome. Genetic testing using targeted capture followed by next-generation sequencing was efficient, cost-effective, and enabled a molecular diagnosis in many refractory cases. A specific challenge of next-generation sequencing data is pathogenicity interpretation, but functional analysis confirmed the pathogenicity of novel variants showing that the pipeline was robust. Our results have broad implications for clinical neurology practice and the approach to diagnostic testing.
ataxia; genetics; autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxia; autosomal recessive cerebellar ataxia; diagnosis
To demonstrate the sensitivity of a recently developed whole-brain magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) sequence to cerebral pathology and disability in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and compare with measures derived from diffusion tensor imaging.
Whole-brain MRSI and diffusion tensor imaging were undertaken in 13 patients and 14 age-similar healthy controls. Mean N-acetylaspartate (NAA), fractional anisotropy, and mean diffusivity were extracted from the corticospinal tract, compared between groups, and then in relation to disability in the patient group.
Significant reductions in NAA were found along the course of the corticospinal tracts on whole-brain MRSI. There were also significant changes in fractional anisotropy (decreased) and mean diffusivity (increased) in the patient group, but only NAA showed a significant relationship with disability (r = 0.65, p = 0.01).
Whole-brain MRSI has potential as a quantifiable neuroimaging marker of disability in ALS. It offers renewed hope for a neuroimaging outcome measure with the potential for harmonization across multiple sites in the context of a therapeutic trial.
A hexanucleotide repeat expansion in the C9ORF72 gene has recently been shown to cause a large proportion of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and fronto-temporal dementia (FTD).
We screened 4,448 patients diagnosed with ALS and 1,425 patients diagnosed with FTD drawn from diverse populations for the hexanucleotide expansion using a repeat-primed PCR assay. ALS and FTD were diagnosed according to the El Escorial and Lund-Manchester criteria respectively. Familial status was based on self-reported family history of similar neurodegenerative diseases at the time of sample collection. Haplotype data of 262 patients carrying the expansion were compared with the known Finnish founder risk haplotype across the chromosomal locus. Age-related penetrance was calculated by the Kaplan-Meier method using data from 603 individuals carrying the expansion.
The mutation was observed among 7·0% (n = 236 of 3,377) of Caucasians, 4·1% (n = 2 of 49) of African-Americans, and 8·3% (n = 6 of 72) of Hispanic individuals diagnosed with sporadic ALS, whereas the rate was 6·0% (n = 59 of 981) among Caucasians diagnosed with sporadic FTD. Among Asians, 5·0% (n = 1 of 20) of familial ALS and 66·6% (n = 2 of 3) of familial FTD cases carried the repeat expansion. In contrast, mutations were not observed among patients of Native American (n = 3 sporadic ALS), Indian (n = 31 sporadic ALS, n = 31 sporadic FTD), and Pacific Islander (n = 90 sporadic ALS) ethnicity. All patients with the repeat expansion carried, either partially or fully, the founder haplotype suggesting that the expansion occurred on a single occasion in the past (~1,500 years ago). The pathogenic expansion was non-penetrant below 35 years of age, increasing to 50·0% penetrance by 58 years of age, and was almost fully penetrant by 80 years of age.
We confirm that a common single Mendelian genetic lesion is implicated in a large proportion of sporadic and familial ALS and FTD. Testing for this pathogenic expansion will be important in the management and genetic counseling of patients with these fatal neurodegenerative diseases.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the most common lethal recessive disease in childhood, and there is currently no effective treatment to halt disease progression. The translation of scientific advances into effective therapies is hampered by major roadblocks in clinical trials, including the complex regulatory environment in Europe, variations in standards of care, patient ascertainment and enrolment, a narrow therapeutic window and a lack of biomarkers of efficacy. In this context, SMA-Europe organized its first international workshop in July 2012 in Rome, gathering 34 scientists, clinicians and representatives of patient organizations to establish recommendations for improving clinical trials for SMAa.
Spinal muscular atrophy; Clinical trials; Preclinical drug selection; Phase III trial planning; Patient registries; Neonatal trials; Newborn screening; Standards of care; European regulations; Efficacy biomarkers
Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease comprises a heterogeneous group of peripheral neuropathies characterized by muscle weakness and wasting, and impaired sensation in the extremities. Four genes encoding an aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (ARS) have been implicated in CMT disease. ARSs are ubiquitously expressed, essential enzymes that ligate amino acids to cognate tRNA molecules. Recently, a p.Arg329His variant in the alanyl-tRNA synthetase (AARS) gene was found to segregate with dominant axonal CMT type 2N (CMT2N) in two French families; however, the functional consequence of this mutation has not been determined. To investigate the role of AARS in CMT, we performed a mutation screen of the AARS gene in patients with peripheral neuropathy. Our results showed that p.Arg329His AARS also segregated with CMT disease in a large Australian family. Aminoacylation and yeast viability assays showed that p.Arg329His AARS severely reduces enzyme activity. Genotyping analysis indicated that this mutation arose on three distinct haplotypes, and the results of bisulfite sequencing suggested that methylation-mediated deamination of a CpG dinucleotide gives rise to the recurrent p.Arg329His AARS mutation. Together, our data suggest that impaired tRNA charging plays a role in the molecular pathology of CMT2N, and that patients with CMT should be directly tested for the p.Arg329His AARS mutation.
AARS; Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease; CMT2N; Peripheral Neuropathy; Axonopathy
Motor neurone disease (MND) is a devastating illness which leads to muscle weakness and death, usually within 2-3 years of symptom onset. Respiratory insufficiency is a common cause of morbidity, particularly in later stages of MND and respiratory complications are the leading cause of mortality in MND patients. Non Invasive Ventilation (NIV) is the current standard therapy to manage respiratory insufficiency. Some MND patients however do not tolerate NIV due to a number of issues including mask interface problems and claustrophobia. In those that do tolerate NIV, eventually respiratory muscle weakness will progress to a point at which intermittent/overnight NIV is ineffective. The NeuRx RA/4 Diaphragm Pacing System was originally developed for patients with respiratory insufficiency and diaphragm paralysis secondary to stable high spinal cord injuries. The DiPALS study will assess the effect of diaphragm pacing (DP) when used to treat patients with MND and respiratory insufficiency.
108 patients will be recruited to the study at 5 sites in the UK. Patients will be randomised to either receive NIV (current standard care) or receive DP in addition to NIV. Study participants will be required to complete outcome measures at 5 follow up time points (2, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months) plus an additional surgery and 1 week post operative visit for those in the DP group. 12 patients (and their carers) from the DP group will also be asked to complete 2 qualitative interviews.
The primary objective of this trial will be to evaluate the effect of Diaphragm Pacing (DP) on survival over the study duration in patients with MND with respiratory muscle weakness. The project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research, Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme (project number 09/55/33) and the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the Henry Smith Charity. Trial Registration: Current controlled trials ISRCTN53817913. The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the HTA programme, NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health.
We aimed to accurately estimate the frequency of a hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9orf72 that has been associated with a large proportion of cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
We screened 4448 patients diagnosed with ALS (El Escorial criteria) and 1425 patients with FTD (Lund-Manchester criteria) from 17 regions worldwide for the GGGGCC hexanucleotide expansion using a repeat-primed PCR assay. We assessed familial disease status on the basis of self-reported family history of similar neurodegenerative diseases at the time of sample collection. We compared haplotype data for 262 patients carrying the expansion with the known Finnish founder risk haplotype across the chromosomal locus. We calculated age-related penetrance using the Kaplan-Meier method with data for 603 individuals with the expansion.
In patients with sporadic ALS, we identified the repeat expansion in 236 (7·0%) of 3377 white individuals from the USA, Europe, and Australia, two (4·1%) of 49 black individuals from the USA, and six (8·3%) of 72 Hispanic individuals from the USA. The mutation was present in 217 (39·3%) of 552 white individuals with familial ALS from Europe and the USA. 59 (6·0%) of 981 white Europeans with sporadic FTD had the mutation, as did 99 (24·8%) of 400 white Europeans with familial FTD. Data for other ethnic groups were sparse, but we identified one Asian patient with familial ALS (from 20 assessed) and two with familial FTD (from three assessed) who carried the mutation. The mutation was not carried by the three Native Americans or 360 patients from Asia or the Pacific Islands with sporadic ALS who were tested, or by 41 Asian patients with sporadic FTD. All patients with the repeat expansion had (partly or fully) the founder haplotype, suggesting a one-off expansion occurring about 1500 years ago. The pathogenic expansion was non-penetrant in individuals younger than 35 years, 50% penetrant by 58 years, and almost fully penetrant by 80 years.
A common Mendelian genetic lesion in C9orf72 is implicated in many cases of sporadic and familial ALS and FTD. Testing for this pathogenic expansion should be considered in the management and genetic counselling of patients with these fatal neurodegenerative diseases.
Full funding sources listed at end of paper (see Acknowledgments).
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2D (CMT2D) is a dominantly inherited peripheral neuropathy caused by missense mutations in the glycyl-tRNA synthetase gene (GARS). In addition to GARS, mutations in three other tRNA synthetase genes cause similar neuropathies, although the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. To address this, we generated transgenic mice that ubiquitously over-express wild-type GARS and crossed them to two dominant mouse models of CMT2D to distinguish loss-of-function and gain-of-function mechanisms. Over-expression of wild-type GARS does not improve the neuropathy phenotype in heterozygous Gars mutant mice, as determined by histological, functional, and behavioral tests. Transgenic GARS is able to rescue a pathological point mutation as a homozygote or in complementation tests with a Gars null allele, demonstrating the functionality of the transgene and revealing a recessive loss-of-function component of the point mutation. Missense mutations as transgene-rescued homozygotes or compound heterozygotes have a more severe neuropathy than heterozygotes, indicating that increased dosage of the disease-causing alleles results in a more severe neurological phenotype, even in the presence of a wild-type transgene. We conclude that, although missense mutations of Gars may cause some loss of function, the dominant neuropathy phenotype observed in mice is caused by a dose-dependent gain of function that is not mitigated by over-expression of functional wild-type protein.
Mutations in the glycyl-tRNA synthetase gene (GARS) cause Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2D, a disease characterized by neuronal axon loss in the arms and legs, resulting in weakness and sensory problems. The GARS protein is essential for protein synthesis in every cell, and it has been difficult to determine whether the mutations result in disease because they impair this function or whether GARS somehow becomes toxic when it is mutated. We generated mice that overexpress normal GARS and mated these to two different mouse models of the disease to determine whether a restoration of normal function could prevent the disease. These crosses demonstrated that the mutant forms of GARS are toxic, and this toxic effect increases as the amount of mutant protein increases. Furthermore, this toxicity cannot be reduced or prevented by providing additional normal GARS. Therefore, these results suggest that, for most patients, therapies need to specifically target the mutant form of GARS or the toxic function.
The objective of this research was to develop a disease-specific measure for fatigue in patients with motor neurone disease (MND) by generating data that would fit the Rasch measurement model. Fatigue was defined as reversible motor weakness and whole-body tiredness that was predominantly brought on by muscular exertion and was partially relieved by rest.
Qualitative interviews were undertaken to confirm the suitability of a previously identified set of 52 neurological fatigue items as relevant to patients with MND. Patients were recruited from five U.K. MND clinics. Questionnaires were administered during clinic or by post. A sub-sample of patients completed the questionnaire again after 2-4 weeks to assess test-retest validity. Exploratory factor analyses and Rasch analysis were conducted on the item set.
Qualitative interviews with ten MND patients confirmed the suitability of 52 previously identified neurological fatigue items as relevant to patients with MND. 298 patients consented to completing the initial questionnaire including this item set, with an additional 78 patients completing the questionnaire a second time after 4-6 weeks. Exploratory Factor Analysis identified five potential subscales that could be conceptualised as representing: 'Energy', 'Reversible muscular weakness' (shortened to 'Weakness'), 'Concentration', 'Effects of heat' and 'Rest'. Of the original five factors, two factors 'Energy' and 'Weakness' met the expectations of the Rasch model. A higher order fatigue summary scale, consisting of items from the 'Energy' and 'Weakness' subscales, was found to fit the Rasch model and have acceptable unidimensionality. The two scales and the higher order summary scale were shown to fulfil model expectations, including assumptions of unidimensionality, local independency and an absence of differential item functioning.
The Neurological Fatigue Index for MND (NFI-MND) is a simple, easy-to-administer fatigue scale. It consists of an 8-item fatigue summary scale in addition to separate scales for measuring fatigue experienced as reversible muscular weakness and fatigue expressed as feelings of low energy and whole body tiredness. The underlying two factor structure supports the patient concept of fatigue derived from qualitative interviews in this population. All three scales were shown to be reliable and capable of interval level measurement.
Reduced expression of the survival motor neuron (SMN) gene causes the childhood motor neuron disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Low levels of ubiquitously expressed SMN protein result in the degeneration of lower motor neurons, but it remains unclear whether other regions of the nervous system are also affected. Here we show that reduced levels of SMN lead to impaired perinatal brain development in a mouse model of severe SMA. Regionally selective changes in brain morphology were apparent in areas normally associated with higher SMN levels in the healthy postnatal brain, including the hippocampus, and were associated with decreased cell density, reduced cell proliferation and impaired hippocampal neurogenesis. A comparative proteomics analysis of the hippocampus from SMA and wild-type littermate mice revealed widespread modifications in expression levels of proteins regulating cellular proliferation, migration and development when SMN levels were reduced. This study reveals novel roles for SMN protein in brain development and maintenance and provides the first insights into cellular and molecular pathways disrupted in the brain in a severe form of SMA.
We report a patient presenting with ALS in whom acromegaly was later confirmed. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) has been tried in the treatment of ALS and despite equivocal results from clinical trials, efforts have continued to try to harness the significant positive effects on motor neuron growth observed in vitro and in survival of mouse models of the disease. One subsequent study has reported an association between higher circulating serum IGF-1 levels and longer disease duration in ALS patients. Concern therefore arose in our case that treatment of the acromegaly with a somatostatin analogue might adversely affect the natural course of his ALS through lowering of potentially beneficial IGF-1 levels. Through clinical observation and prognostic modelling we suggest that this concern was unfounded. The potential interaction of these two rarely coincident disorders in our patient is discussed.
Survival; prognostic; epidemiology
Our objective was to establish the pattern of spread in lower limb-onset ALS (contra- versus ipsi-lateral) and its contribution to prognosis within a multivariate model. Pattern of spread was established in 109 sporadic ALS patients with lower limb-onset, prospectively recorded in Oxford and Sheffield tertiary clinics from 2001 to 2008. Survival analysis was by univariate Kaplan-Meier log-rank and multivariate Cox proportional hazards. Variables studied were time to next limb progression, site of next progression, age at symptom onset, gender, diagnostic latency and use of riluzole. Initial progression was either to the contralateral leg (76%) or ipsilateral arm (24%). Factors independently affecting survival were time to next limb progression, age at symptom onset, and diagnostic latency. Time to progression as a prognostic factor was independent of initial direction of spread. In a regression analysis of the deceased, overall survival from symptom onset approximated to two years plus the time interval for initial spread. In conclusion, rate of progression in lower limb-onset ALS is not influenced by whether initial spread is to the contralateral limb or ipsilateral arm. The time interval to this initial spread is a powerful factor in predicting overall survival, and could be used to facilitate decision-making and effective care planning.
Epidemiology; prognostic; survival
The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) is commonly used to assess symptoms of anxiety and depression in motor neurone disease (MND). The measure has never been specifically validated for use within this population, despite questions raised about the scale's validity. This study seeks to analyse the construct validity of the HADS in MND by fitting its data to the Rasch model.
The scale was administered to 298 patients with MND. Scale assessment included model fit, differential item functioning (DIF), unidimensionality, local dependency and category threshold analysis.
Rasch analyses were carried out on the HADS total score as well as depression and anxiety subscales (HADS-T, D and A respectively). After removing one item from both of the seven item scales, it was possible to produce modified HADS-A and HADS-D scales which fit the Rasch model. An 11-item higher-order HADS-T total scale was found to fit the Rasch model following the removal of one further item.
Our results suggest that a modified HADS-A and HADS-D are unidimensional, free of DIF and have good fit to the Rasch model in this population. As such they are suitable for use in MND clinics or research. The use of the modified HADS-T as a higher-order measure of psychological distress was supported by our data. Revised cut-off points are given for the modified HADS-A and HADS-D subscales.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which is caused by inactivating mutations in the survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene, is characterized by loss of lower motor neurons in the spinal cord. The gene encoding SMN is very highly conserved in evolution, allowing the disease to be modeled in a range of species. The similarities in anatomy and physiology to the human neuromuscular system, coupled with the ease of genetic manipulation, make the mouse the most suitable model for exploring the basic pathogenesis of motor neuron loss and for testing potential treatments. Therapies that increase SMN levels, either through direct viral delivery or by enhancing full-length SMN protein expression from the SMN1 paralog, SMN2, are approaching the translational stage of development. It is therefore timely to consider the role of mouse models in addressing aspects of disease pathogenesis that are most relevant to SMA therapy. Here, we review evidence suggesting that the apparent selective vulnerability of motor neurons to SMN deficiency is relative rather than absolute, signifying that therapies will need to be delivered systemically. We also consider evidence from mouse models suggesting that SMN has its predominant action on the neuromuscular system in early postnatal life, during a discrete phase of development. Data from these experiments suggest that the timing of therapy to increase SMN levels might be crucial. The extent to which SMN is required for the maintenance of motor neurons in later life and whether augmenting its levels could treat degenerative motor neuron diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), requires further exploration.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2D, a hereditary axonal neuropathy, is caused by mutations in glycyl-tRNA synthetase (GARS). The mutations are distributed throughout the protein in multiple functional domains. In biochemical and cell culture experiments, some mutant forms of GARS have been indistinguishable from wild-type protein, suggesting that these in vitro tests may not adequately assess the aberrant activity responsible for axonal degeneration. Recently, mouse and fly models have offered new insight into the disease mechanism. There are still gaps in our understanding of how mutations in a ubiquitously expressed component of the translation machinery result in axonal neuropathy. Here we review recent reports, weigh the evidence for and against possible mechanisms, and suggest areas of focus for future work.
glycyl-tRNA synthetase; tRNA synthetase; Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease; protein translation; neurodegeneration
Autosomal recessive hereditary spastic paraplegia with thin corpus callosum (HSP-TCC) maps to the SPG11 locus in the majority of cases. Mutations in the KIAA1840 gene, encoding spatacsin, have been shown to underlie SPG11-linked HSP-TCC. The aim of this study was to perform candidate gene analysis in HSP-TCC subjects from Asian families and to characterize disruption of spatacsin function during zebrafish development. Homozygosity mapping and direct sequencing were used to assess the ACCPN, SPG11, and SPG21 loci in four inbred kindreds originating from the Indian subcontinent. Four novel homozygous SPG11 mutations (c.442+1G>A, c.2146C>T, c.3602_3603delAT, and c.4846C>T) were identified, predicting a loss of spatacsin function in each case. To investigate the role of spatacsin during development, we additionally ascertained the complete zebrafish spg11 ortholog by reverse transcriptase PCR and 5′ RACE. Analysis of transcript expression through whole-mount in situ hybridization demonstrated ubiquitous distribution, with highest levels detected in the brain. Morpholino antisense oligonucleotide injection was used to knock down spatacsin function in zebrafish embryos. Examination of spg11 morphant embryos revealed a range of developmental defects and CNS abnormalities, and analysis of axon pathway formation demonstrated an overall perturbation of neuronal differentiation. These data confirm loss of spatacsin as the cause of SPG11-linked HSP-TCC in Asian kindreds, expanding the mutation spectrum recognized in this disorder. This study represents the first investigation in zebrafish addressing the function of a causative gene in autosomal recessive HSP and identifies a critical role for spatacsin during early neural development in vivo.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10048-010-0243-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Hereditary spastic paraplegia; SPG11; Molecular genetics; Zebrafish studies
Spinal muscular atrophy is a severe motor neuron disease caused by inactivating mutations in the SMN1 gene leading to reduced levels of full-length functional SMN protein. SMN is a critical mediator of spliceosomal protein assembly, and complete loss or drastic reduction in protein leads to loss of cell viability. However, the reason for selective motor neuron degeneration when SMN is reduced to levels which are tolerated by all other cell types is not currently understood. Widespread splicing abnormalities have recently been reported at end-stage in a mouse model of SMA, leading to the proposition that disruption of efficient splicing is the primary mechanism of motor neuron death. However, it remains unclear whether splicing abnormalities are present during early stages of the disease, which would be a requirement for a direct role in disease pathogenesis. We performed exon-array analysis of RNA from SMN deficient mouse spinal cord at 3 time points, pre-symptomatic (P1), early symptomatic (P7), and late-symptomatic (P13). Compared to littermate control mice, SMA mice showed a time-dependent increase in the number of exons showing differential expression, with minimal differences between genotypes at P1 and P7, but substantial variation in late-symptomatic (P13) mice. Gene ontology analysis revealed differences in pathways associated with neuronal development as well as cellular injury. Validation of selected targets by RT–PCR confirmed the array findings and was in keeping with a shift between physiologically occurring mRNA isoforms. We conclude that the majority of splicing changes occur late in SMA and may represent a secondary effect of cell injury, though we cannot rule out significant early changes in a small number of transcripts crucial to motor neuron survival.
The identification of mutations in the Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) gene as the cause of the severe motor neuron disorder spinal muscular atrophy is one of a number of discoveries implicating selective motor neuron vulnerability to defects in processing of RNA and its associated ribonucleoprotein complexes. An unresolved issue is whether loss of the general cellular function of SMN in spliceosomal assembly, which is predicted to result in widespread defects in mRNA splicing, is directly responsible for motor neuron death. We have used exon-specific microarrays to assess the degree of altered splicing in the spinal cord in a mouse model of SMA. Our finding that the vast majority of splicing changes are a late feature of the disease and may represent a shift to alternative isoform expression, rather than loss of splicing fidelity, provides evidence that widespread splicing disturbance is not a primary feature of the disease pathogenesis but a secondary effect of cell injury in a late phase of the disease. However, our study cannot rule out a role for subtle early changes in one or a few transcripts crucial to motor neuron survival expressed at low levels or in only in a sub-population of spinal cord cells.
Redistribution of nuclear TAR DNA binding protein 43 (TDP-43) to the cytoplasm and ubiquitinated inclusions of spinal motor neurons and glial cells is characteristic of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) pathology. Recent evidence suggests that TDP-43 pathology is common to sporadic ALS and familial ALS without SOD1 mutation, but not SOD1-related fALS cases. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether TDP-43 abnormalities occur in non-ALS forms of motor neuron disease. Here, we characterise TDP-43 localisation, expression levels and post-translational modifications in mouse models of ALS and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
TDP-43 mislocalisation to ubiquitinated inclusions or cytoplasm was notably lacking in anterior horn cells from transgenic mutant SOD1G93A mice. In addition, abnormally phosphorylated or truncated TDP-43 species were not detected in fractionated ALS mouse spinal cord or brain. Despite partial colocalisation of TDP-43 with SMN, depletion of SMN- and coilin-positive Cajal bodies in motor neurons of affected SMA mice did not alter nuclear TDP-43 distribution, expression or biochemistry in spinal cords.
These results emphasise that TDP-43 pathology characteristic of human sporadic ALS is not a core component of the neurodegenerative mechanisms caused by SOD1 mutation or SMN deficiency in mouse models of ALS and SMA, respectively.
The progression of motor neurone disease (MND) is currently irreversible, and the grave implications of diagnosis naturally fuels concern among neurologists over missing a potential mimic disorder. There is no diagnostic test for MND but in reality there are few plausible mimics in routine clinical practice. In the presence of a progressive pure motor disorder, signs such as florid fasciculations, bilateral tongue wasting, the ‘split hand’, head drop, emotionality, and cognitive or behavioural impairment carry high positive predictive value. MND is clinically heterogeneous, however, with some important chameleon-like presentations and considerable variation in clinical course. Lack of confidence about the scope of such variation, or an approach to diagnosis emphasising investigations over clinical common sense, has the potential to exacerbate diagnostic delay in MND and impede timely planning of the care which is essential to maximising quality of life.
MOTOR NEURON DISEASE