Stem cell technology offers new insight into MND

Glial cells under a microscope

Dec 2019: Euan MacDonald Centre researchers have published findings showing that a genetic change associated with MND makes glial cells, which normally support neurons, become damaging to them instead.

Euan MacDonald Centre scientists at the University of St Andrews and the University of Edinburgh have used stem cell technology to shown that glial cells, which normally support neurons throughout the brain and spinal cord, become damaging to neurons in MND.

By growing different combinations of glial cells and motor neurons together in the lab, the researchers found that glial cells from people with MND can cause motor neurons from healthy individuals to stop producing the electrical signals they need to control muscles.

The researchers showed that the C9orf72 genetic variation, which is the most commonly found genetic change in people with MND, caused the effects.

The stem cells were derived from skin biopsies donated by people with MND and healthy individuals.

The work was conducted by Professor Gareth Miles and Professor Siddharthan Chandran and their teams.

We are very excited by these new findings which clearly point the finger at glial cells as key players in this devastating disease.

Interestingly, the negative influence of glial cells seems to prevent motor neurons from fulfilling their normal roles, even before the motor neurons show signs of dying.

We hope that this new information highlights targets for the development of much-needed treatments and ultimately a cure for MND.

Professor Gareth MilesProfessor of Neuroscience, University of St Andrews and Principal Investigator, Euan MacDonald Centre

The findings were published in the journal Glia and the work was funded by Motor Neurone Disease Association, MND Scotland, the Medical Research Council and the UK Dementia Research Institute at Edinburgh.

Related links

Read the scientific article: Mutant C9orf72 human iPSC‐derived astrocytes cause non‐cell autonomous motor neuron pathophysiology by Zhao et al. Glia, 2019.

Professor Gareth Miles' profile

Professor Siddharthan Chandran's profile

Research case study: Stem cells and MND 'in a dish'

This article was published on: Tuesday, December 17, 2019