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  • Survival motor neuron deficiency enhances progression in an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis mouse model.

    24 October 2018

    Mutations in the ubiquitously expressed survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) and superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) genes are selectively lethal to motor neurons in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), respectively. Genetic association studies provide compelling evidence that SMN1 and SMN2 genotypes encoding lower SMN protein levels are implicated in sporadic ALS, suggesting that SMN expression is a potential determinant of ALS severity. We therefore sought genetic evidence of SMN involvement in ALS by generating transgenic mutant SOD1 mice on an Smn deficient background. Partial genetic disruption of Smn significantly worsened motor performance and survival in transgenic SOD1(G93A) mice. Furthermore, ALS-linked mutant SOD1 expression severely reduced SMN protein levels, but not transcript, in neuronal culture and mouse models from early presymptomatic disease. SMN protein depletion was linked to the nuclear compartment and a physical interaction between SMN and mutant SOD1 was confirmed in mouse spinal cord. Treatment with the environmental toxin paraquat also depleted SMN protein, implicating oxidative stress in the mechanism underlying SMN deficiency in familial ALS and potentially sporadic disease. In contrast, transgenic SOD1(WT) overexpression in SMA type I mice was incapable of modulating SMN protein levels or disease progression. These data establish that SMN deficiency accelerates phenotypic severity in transgenic familial ALS mice, consistent with an enhancing genetic modifier role. We therefore propose that SMN replacement and upregulation strategies considered for SMA therapy may have protective potential for ALS.

  • Spinal muscular atrophy.

    24 October 2018

    The spinal muscular atrophies are a group of mostly inherited disorders selectively affecting the lower motor neuron. There is a wide degree of clinical and genetic heterogeneity that must be taken into account when giving prognostic information. Autosomal recessive childhood proximal SMA is the commonest form and is due to mutations in a gene encoding a novel protein, SMN, that appears to play a critical role in RNA metabolism but has also been shown to interact with actin-binding proteins and mediators of programmed cell death. The identification of the genetic basis of SMA has resulted in advances for prenatal diagnosis and in new insights into motor neuron biology. The chromosomal location of two of the rarer dominant forms of SMA has been found. Identification of the molecular pathophysiology of lower motor neuron syndromes can be expected to aid in the development of therapy for these disabling disorders.

  • Transgenics, toxicity and therapeutics in rodent models of mutant SOD1-mediated familial ALS.

    24 October 2018

    Gain-of-function mutations in the Cu,Zn-superoxide dismutase (SOD1) gene are implicated in progressive motor neuron death and paralysis in one form of inherited amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). At present, transgenic expression of 12 human SOD1 mutations driven by the endogenous promoter is disease-causative and uniformly lethal in mice and rats, despite tremendous biochemical and biophysical variation between the mutants tested. This contrasts with the subclinical motor neuron disease phenotypes of wild-type SOD1 transgenic and knockout mice. Molecular mechanisms such as glutamate-induced excitotoxicity, axonal transport blockade, mitochondrial dysfunction, neuroinflammation and apoptosis triggered by mutant SOD1 catalysed oxidative reactions and/or protein misfolding are proposed to drive ALS pathogenesis. Around 100 genetic cross-breeding experiments with transgenic mutant SOD1 mice have been performed to verify these mechanisms in vivo. Furthermore, mounting evidence from mice with cell restrictive, repressible or chimeric expression of mutant SOD1 transgenes and bone marrow transplants supports non-neuronal origins of neuroprotection in ALS. Transgenic mutant SOD1 rodents have also provided the benchmark preclinical tool for evaluation of over 150 potential therapeutic anti-oxidant, anti-aggregation, anti-glutamatergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptotic and neurotrophic pharmacological agents. Recent promising findings from gene and antisense therapies, cell replacement and combinatorial drug approaches in transgenic mutant SOD1 rodents are also emerging, but await successful translation in patients. This review summarises the wealth of known genetic and therapeutic modifiers in rodent models with SOD1 mutations and discusses these in the wider context of ALS pathoetiology and treatment.

  • Candidate screening of the bovine and feline spinal muscular atrophy genes reveals no evidence for involvement in human motor neuron disorders.

    24 October 2018

    Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a devastating neuromuscular disease characterised by progressive loss of spinal motor neurons. Mutations in the genes underlying spontaneous bovine and feline models of SMA have recently been described. The clinical and pathological features of these disorders are similar to human forms of SMA making both genes excellent candidates in patients with motor neuron loss of no known aetiology. Here we report that a screen for mutations in coding regions and splice sites of the LIX1 and FVT1 genes in a cohort of 96 non-5q SMA patients and 119 familial and sporadic Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis patients identified no obvious pathogenic changes. This study indicates that mutations in these genes do not contribute significantly to the cause of motor neuron diseases in the human population.

  • Frequency of the C9orf72 hexanucleotide repeat expansion in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia: a cross-sectional study.

    24 October 2018

    BACKGROUND: 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). METHODS: 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. FINDINGS: 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. INTERPRETATION: 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. FUNDING: Full funding sources listed at end of paper (see Acknowledgments).

  • Review: neuromuscular synaptic vulnerability in motor neurone disease: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy.

    24 October 2018

    Amid the great diversity of neurodegenerative conditions, there is a growing body of evidence that non-somatic (that is, synaptic and distal axonal) compartments of neurones are early and important subcellular sites of pathological change. In this review we discuss experimental data from human patients, animal models and in vitro systems showing that neuromuscular synapses are targeted in different forms of motor neurone disease (MND), including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy. We highlight important developments revealing the heterogeneous nature of vulnerability in populations of lower motor units in MND and examine how progress in our understanding of the molecular pathways underlying MND may provide insights into the regulation of synaptic vulnerability and pathology. We conclude that future experiments developing therapeutic approaches specifically targeting neuromuscular synaptic vulnerability are likely to be required to prevent or delay disease onset and progression in human MND patients.

  • Asymmetrical late onset motor neuropathy associated with a novel mutation in the small heat shock protein HSPB1 (HSP27).

    24 October 2018

    Distal hereditary motor neuropathy, also known as distal spinal muscular atrophy, is characterised by slowly progressive weakness and wasting of the hands and feet and has a heterogeneous genetic basis. One form of distal hereditary motor neuropathy is associated with mutations in the gene for the small heat shock protein HSPB1 (hsp27). Families have been described in which slowly progressive, symmetrical, lower limb predominant motor weakness is usually evident by middle age. Here we report a novel mutation, G84R, in an elderly patient presenting with strikingly asymmetrical weakness. Expression of this and other known mutations in cell culture demonstrated enhanced aggregation of mutant HSPB1 protein compared with wild-type.

  • Characterisation of novel point mutations in the survival motor neuron gene SMN, in three patients with SMA.

    24 October 2018

    We report two novel mutations in three cases of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), including two distant cousins who followed an unexpectedly severe course. Diagnosis was confirmed by reduced SMN protein and full-length SMN mRNA levels. Sequencing of the non-deleted SMN1 gene revealed a single G insertion at the end of exon 1 in the two cousins and a novel G275S exon 6 missense mutation in the milder case.

  • Murray Valley encephalitis in an adult traveller complicated by long-term flaccid paralysis: case report and review of the literature.

    24 October 2018

    Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) virus, a mosquito-borne flavivirus, is the most common cause of viral encephalitis in the tropical 'Top End' of northern Australia. Clinical encephalitis due to MVE virus has a mortality rate of approximately 30%, with a similar proportion of patients being left with significant neurological deficits. We report the case of a 25-year-old man from the UK who acquired MVE while travelling through northern Australia. He required prolonged admission to the Intensive Care Unit and several years later remains partly ventilator-dependent, with flaccid quadriparesis. To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of MVE virus-induced flaccid paralysis in an adult in northern Australia, although it is well described in children. Paralysis was thought to be due to anterior horn cell involvement in the spinal cord and extensive bilateral thalamic destruction, both of which are well recognised complications of infection with MVE virus. Cases of flaccid paralysis with similar pathology have been described following infection with the related flavivirus Japanese encephalitis virus as well as more recently with West Nile virus. Our case highlights the potential severity of flavivirus-induced encephalitis and the importance of avoiding mosquito bites while travelling through endemic areas.