Stem cell discovery gives insight into motor neurone disease

Public release date: 11-Feb-2013 [ | E-mail | Share ]

Contact: Tara Womersley tara.womersley@ed.ac.uk 44-131-650-9836 University of Edinburgh

A discovery using stem cells from a patient with motor neurone disease could help research into treatments for the condition. The study used a patient's skin cells to create motor neurons - nerve cells that control muscle activity - and the cells that support them called astrocytes.

Researchers studied these two types of cells in the laboratory. They found that a protein expressed by abnormalities in a gene linked to motor neurone disease, which is called TDP-43, caused the astrocytes to die.

The study, led by the University of Edinburgh and funded by the Motor Neurone Disease Association, provides fresh insight into the mechanisms involved in the disease.

Although TDP-43 mutations are a rare cause of motor neurone disease (MND), scientists are especially interested in the gene because in the vast majority of MND patients, TDP-43 protein (made by the TDP-43 gene) forms pathological clumps inside motor neurons.

Motor neurons die in MND leading to paralysis and early death.

This study shows for the first time that abnormal TDP-43 protein causes death of astrocytes. The researchers, however, found that the damaged astrocytes were not directly toxic to motor neurons.

Better understanding the role of astrocytes could help to inform research into treatments for MND.

Professor Siddharthan Chandran, of the University of Edinburgh, said: "Motor neurone disease is a devastating and ultimately fatal condition, for which there is no cure or effective treatment. It is not just a question of looking solely at motor neurons, but also the cells that surround them, to understand why motor neurons die. Our aim is to find ways to slow down progression of this devastating disease and ultimately develop a cure."

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Stem cell discovery gives insight into motor neurone disease

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