Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease presenting clinically with parkinsonian, cerebellar, and autonomic features. α-Synuclein (αsyn), encoded by the gene SNCA, is the main constituent of glial cytoplasmic inclusion (GCI) found in oligodendrocytes in MSA, but the methods of its accumulation have not been established. The aim of this study is to investigate alterations in regional and cellular SNCA mRNA expression in MSA as a possible substrate for GCI formation. Quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) was performed on postmortem brain samples from 15 MSA, 5 IPD, and 5 control cases to investigate regional expression in the frontal and occipital regions, dorsal putamen, pontine base, and cerebellum. For cellular expression analysis, neurons and oligodendrocytes were isolated by laser-capture microdissection from five MSA and five control cases. SNCA mRNA expression was not significantly different between the MSA, IPD and control cases in all regions (multilevel model, P = 0.14). After adjusting for group effect, the highest expression was found in the occipital cortex while the lowest was in the putamen (multilevel model, P < 0.0001). At the cellular level, MSA oligodendrocytes expressed more SNCA than control oligodendrocytes and expression in MSA neurons was slightly lower than that in controls, however, these results did not reach statistical significance. We have demonstrated regional variations in SNCA expression, which is higher in cortical than subcortical regions. This study is the first to demonstrate SNCA mRNA expression by oligodendrocytes in human postmortem tissue using qPCR and, although not statistically significant, could suggest that this may be increased in MSA compared to controls.
α-synuclein; multiple system atrophy; oligodendrocytes; glial cytoplasmic inclusions; laser-capture microdissection
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a motor neuron disease characterized by degeneration and loss of upper and lower motor neurons from the motor cortex, brainstem and spinal cord although evidence is suggesting that there is further involvement of other cell types in the surrounding tissue. Transcriptomic analysis by gene expression profiling using microarray technology has enabled the determination of patterns of cell death in the degenerating tissues. This work has examined gene expression at the level of the tissue and individual cell types in both sporadic and familial forms of the disease. In addition, further studies have examined the differential vulnerability of neuronal cells in different regions of the central nervous system. Model systems have also provided further information to help unravel the mechanisms that lead to death of the motor neurons in disease and also provided novel insights. In this review we shall describe the methods that have been used in these investigations and describe how they have contributed to our knowledge of the cell death mechanisms in ALS.
transcriptomics; cell death; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; microarray
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.
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.
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
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.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small, abundant RNA molecules that constitute part of the cell's non-coding RNA “dark matter.” In recent years, the discovery of miRNAs has revolutionised the traditional view of gene expression and our understanding of miRNA biogenesis and function has expanded. Altered expression of miRNAs is increasingly recognized as a feature of many disease states, including neurodegeneration. Here, we review the emerging role for miRNA dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington's disease pathogenesis. We emphasize the complex nature of gene regulatory networks and the need for systematic studies, with larger sample cohorts than have so far been reported, to reveal the most important miRNA regulators in disease. Finally, miRNA diversity and their potential to target multiple pathways, offers novel clinical applications for miRNAs as biomarkers and therapeutic agents in neurodegenerative diseases.
microRNA; neurodegeneration; Alzheimer's disease; Parkinson's disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Huntington's disease
A consistent clinical feature of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the sparing of eye movements and the function of external sphincters, with corresponding preservation of motor neurons in the brainstem oculomotor nuclei, and of Onuf’s nucleus in the sacral spinal cord. Studying the differences in properties of neurons that are vulnerable and resistant to the disease process in ALS may provide insights into the mechanisms of neuronal degeneration, and identify targets for therapeutic manipulation. We used microarray analysis to determine the differences in gene expression between oculomotor and spinal motor neurons, isolated by laser capture microdissection from the midbrain and spinal cord of neurologically normal human controls. We compared these to transcriptional profiles of oculomotor nuclei and spinal cord from rat and mouse, obtained from the GEO omnibus database. We show that oculomotor neurons have a distinct transcriptional profile, with significant differential expression of 1,757 named genes (q < 0.001). Differentially expressed genes are enriched for the functional categories of synaptic transmission, ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis, mitochondrial function, transcriptional regulation, immune system functions, and the extracellular matrix. Marked differences are seen, across the three species, in genes with a function in synaptic transmission, including several glutamate and GABA receptor subunits. Using patch clamp recording in acute spinal and brainstem slices, we show that resistant oculomotor neurons show a reduced AMPA-mediated inward calcium current, and a higher GABA-mediated chloride current, than vulnerable spinal motor neurons. The findings suggest that reduced susceptibility to excitotoxicity, mediated in part through enhanced GABAergic transmission, is an important determinant of the relative resistance of oculomotor neurons to degeneration in ALS.
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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.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; astrocytes; microarray; lactate; nerve growth factor
The maternal tract plays a critical role in the success of early embryonic development providing an optimal environment for establishment and maintenance of pregnancy. Preparation of this environment requires an intimate dialogue between the embryo and her mother. However, many intriguing aspects remain unknown in this unique communication system. To advance our understanding of the process by which a blastocyst is accepted by the endometrium and better address the clinical challenges of infertility and pregnancy failure, it is imperative to decipher this complex molecular dialogue. The objective of the present work is to define the local response of the maternal tract towards the embryo during the earliest stages of pregnancy. We used a novel in vivo experimental model that eliminated genetic variability and individual differences, followed by Affymetrix microarray to identify the signals involved in this embryo-maternal dialogue. Using laparoscopic insemination one oviduct of a sow was inseminated with spermatozoa and the contralateral oviduct was injected with diluent. This model allowed us to obtain samples from the oviduct and the tip of the uterine horn containing either embryos or oocytes from the same sow. Microarray analysis showed that most of the transcripts differentially expressed were down-regulated in the uterine horn in response to blastocysts when compared to oocytes. Many of the transcripts altered in response to the embryo in the uterine horn were related to the immune system. We used an in silico mathematical model to demonstrate the role of the embryo as a modulator of the immune system. This model revealed that relatively modest changes induced by the presence of the embryo could modulate the maternal immune response. These findings suggested that the presence of the embryo might regulate the immune system in the maternal tract to allow the refractory uterus to tolerate the embryo and support its development.
Neutrophils are rapidly recruited to sites of tissue injury or infection, where they protect against invading pathogens. Neutrophil functions are limited by a process of neutrophil senescence, which renders the cells unable to respond to chemoattractants, carry out respiratory burst, or degranulate. In parallel, aged neutrophils also undergo spontaneous apoptosis, which can be delayed by factors such as GMCSF. This is then followed by their subsequent removal by phagocytic cells such as macrophages, thereby preventing unwanted inflammation and tissue damage. Neutrophils translate mRNA to make new proteins that are important in maintaining functional longevity. We therefore hypothesised that neutrophil functions and lifespan might be regulated by microRNAs expressed within human neutrophils. Total RNA from highly purified neutrophils was prepared and subjected to microarray analysis using the Agilent human miRNA microarray V3. We found human neutrophils expressed a selected repertoire of 148 microRNAs and that 6 of these were significantly upregulated after a period of 4 hours in culture, at a time when the contribution of apoptosis is negligible. A list of predicted targets for these 6 microRNAs was generated from http://mirecords.biolead.org and compared to mRNA species downregulated over time, revealing 83 genes targeted by at least 2 out of the 6 regulated microRNAs. Pathway analysis of genes containing binding sites for these microRNAs identified the following pathways: chemokine and cytokine signalling, Ras pathway, and regulation of the actin cytoskeleton. Our data suggest that microRNAs may play a role in the regulation of neutrophil senescence and further suggest that manipulation of microRNAs might represent an area of future therapeutic interest for the treatment of inflammatory disease.
Gene expression profiling has been used previously with spinal cord homogenates and laser capture microdissected motor neurons to determine the mechanisms involved in neurodegeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. However, while cellular and animal model work has focused on superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the transcriptional profile of human mutant superoxide dismutase 1 motor neurons has remained undiscovered. The aim of this study was to apply gene expression profiling to laser captured motor neurons from human superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and neurologically normal control cases, in order to determine those pathways dysregulated in human superoxide dismutase 1-related neurodegeneration and to establish potential pathways suitable for therapeutic intervention. Identified targets were then validated in cultured cell models using lentiviral vectors to manipulate the expression of key genes. Microarray analysis identified 1170 differentially expressed genes in spinal cord motor neurons from superoxide dismutase 1-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, compared with controls. These genes encoded for proteins in multiple functional categories, including those involved in cell survival and cell death. Further analysis determined that multiple genes involved in the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase signalling cascade were differentially expressed in motor neurons that survived the disease process. Functional experiments in cultured cells and primary motor neurons demonstrate that manipulating this pathway by reducing the expression of a single upstream target, the negative phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase regulator phosphatase and tensin homology, promotes a marked pro-survival effect. Therefore, these data indicate that proteins in the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase pathway could represent a target for therapeutic manipulation in motor neuron degeneration.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; SOD1; PTEN; PI3K; AKT
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is an endothelial cell mitogen that stimulates vasculogenesis. It has also been shown to act as a neurotrophic factor in vitro and in vivo. Deletion of the hypoxia response element of the promoter region of the gene encoding VEGF in mice causes a reduction in neural VEGF expression, and results in adult-onset motor neurone degeneration that resembles amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Investigating the molecular pathways to neurodegeneration in the VEGFδ/δ mouse model of ALS may improve understanding of the mechanisms of motor neurone death in the human disease.
Microarray analysis was used to determine the transcriptional profile of laser captured spinal motor neurones of transgenic and wild-type littermates at 3 time points of disease. 324 genes were significantly differentially expressed in motor neurones of presymptomatic VEGFδ/δ mice, 382 at disease onset, and 689 at late stage disease. Massive transcriptional downregulation occurred with disease progression, associated with downregulation of genes involved in RNA processing at late stage disease. VEGFδ/δ mice showed reduction in expression, from symptom onset, of the cholesterol synthesis pathway, and genes involved in nervous system development, including axonogenesis, synapse formation, growth factor signalling pathways, cell adhesion and microtubule-based processes. These changes may reflect a reduced capacity of VEGFδ/δ mice for maintenance and remodelling of neuronal processes in the face of demands of neural plasticity. The findings are supported by the demonstration that in primary motor neurone cultures from VEGFδ/δ mice, axon outgrowth is significantly reduced compared to wild-type littermates.
Downregulation of these genes involved in axon outgrowth and synapse formation in adult mice suggests a hitherto unrecognized role of VEGF in the maintenance of neuronal circuitry. Dysregulation of VEGF may lead to neurodegeneration through synaptic regression and dying-back axonopathy.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a common late-onset neurodegenerative disease, is associated with fronto-temporal dementia (FTD) in 3–10% of patients. A mutation in CHMP2B was recently identified in a Danish pedigree with autosomal dominant FTD. Subsequently, two unrelated patients with familial ALS, one of whom also showed features of FTD, were shown to carry missense mutations in CHMP2B. The initial aim of this study was to determine whether mutations in CHMP2B contribute more broadly to ALS pathogenesis.
Sequencing of CHMP2B in 433 ALS cases from the North of England identified 4 cases carrying 3 missense mutations, including one novel mutation, p.Thr104Asn, none of which were present in 500 neurologically normal controls. Analysis of clinical and neuropathological data of these 4 cases showed a phenotype consistent with the lower motor neuron predominant (progressive muscular atrophy (PMA)) variant of ALS. Only one had a recognised family history of ALS and none had clinically apparent dementia. Microarray analysis of motor neurons from CHMP2B cases, compared to controls, showed a distinct gene expression signature with significant differential expression predicting disassembly of cell structure; increased calcium concentration in the ER lumen; decrease in the availability of ATP; down-regulation of the classical and p38 MAPK signalling pathways, reduction in autophagy initiation and a global repression of translation. Transfection of mutant CHMP2B into HEK-293 and COS-7 cells resulted in the formation of large cytoplasmic vacuoles, aberrant lysosomal localisation demonstrated by CD63 staining and impairment of autophagy indicated by increased levels of LC3-II protein. These changes were absent in control cells transfected with wild-type CHMP2B.
We conclude that in a population drawn from North of England pathogenic CHMP2B mutations are found in approximately 1% of cases of ALS and 10% of those with lower motor neuron predominant ALS.
We provide a body of evidence indicating the likely pathogenicity of the reported gene alterations. However, absolute confirmation of pathogenicity requires further evidence, including documentation of familial transmission in ALS pedigrees which might be most fruitfully explored in cases with a LMN predominant phenotype.
Loss of function mutations in PINK1 typically lead to early onset Parkinson disease (PD). Zebrafish (Danio rerio) are emerging as a powerful new vertebrate model to study neurodegenerative diseases. We used a pink1 mutant (pink−/−) zebrafish line with a premature stop mutation (Y431*) in the PINK1 kinase domain to identify molecular mechanisms leading to mitochondrial dysfunction and loss of dopaminergic neurons in PINK1 deficiency.
The effect of PINK1 deficiency on the number of dopaminergic neurons, mitochondrial function, and morphology was assessed in both zebrafish embryos and adults. Genome‐wide gene expression studies were undertaken to identify novel pathogenic mechanisms. Functional experiments were carried out to further investigate the effect of PINK1 deficiency on early neurodevelopmental mechanisms and microglial activation.
PINK1 deficiency results in loss of dopaminergic neurons as well as early impairment of mitochondrial function and morphology in Danio rerio. Expression of TigarB, the zebrafish orthologue of the human, TP53‐induced glycolysis and apoptosis regulator TIGAR, was markedly increased in pink−/− larvae. Antisense‐mediated inactivation of TigarB gave rise to complete normalization of mitochondrial function, with resulting rescue of dopaminergic neurons in pink−/− larvae. There was also marked microglial activation in pink−/− larvae, but depletion of microglia failed to rescue the dopaminergic neuron loss, arguing against microglial activation being a key factor in the pathogenesis.
Pink1−/− zebrafish are the first vertebrate model of PINK1 deficiency with loss of dopaminergic neurons. Our study also identifies TIGAR as a promising novel target for disease‐modifying therapy in PINK1‐related PD. Ann Neurol 2013;74:837–847