New study reveals common changes at nerve cell connection points, across MND subtypes

Four-panel scientific microscope image with brain cells coloured red against a black background

Aug 2023: Euan MacDonald Centre researcher Dr Chris Henstridge from the University of Dundee and his research team have discovered a common change in the cells of the spinal cord of people with MND.

Dr Henstridge and team are focused on understanding the changes in connection points (synapses) between nerve cells. They have recently published findings describing a change in an important mechanism that helps nerve cells communicate. This change was found in samples of donated human spinal cord and in cells from people with MND grown in a dish. The research team believes this common change could help researchers understand how MND progresses and eventually help find new ways to slow or stop the disease.

Synapse loss is one of the earliest hallmarks of the effects of MND on cells, and has been shown to happen both in the brain and in the spinal cord. Loss of synapses in the spinal cord causes the malfunction of motor neurons, which are responsible for transferring the signals from the brain to the muscles to initiate movement.

To find out what is happening in the MND synapses, Dr Henstridge and his team collected synapses from donated human spinal cords and performed detailed analysis to reveal the differences between synapses from people who lived with MND and those who did not. Moreover, in collaboration with Dr Catanese from the University of Ulm in Germany, they also collected synapses from human MND cells grown in a dish carrying different genetic mutations to compare changes within the synapses. This experiment revealed that a process essential for normal nerve communication was damaged. Experiments to fix the broken mechanism resulted in the longer survival of the MND cells in a dish.

This collaboration produced a unique dataset which is freely available online for other researchers to use.

 The study was recently published in the scientific journal Acta Neuropathologica. It was funded by MND Scotland and the MND Association.

Related links

Read the scientific article: Integrative proteomics highlight presynaptic alterations and c-Jun misactivation as convergent pathomechanisms in ALS. Acta Neuropathologica, 2023. DOI: 10.1007/s00401-023-02611-y

Chris Henstridge's profile

This article was published on: Monday, August 07, 2023