Researchers find chemical 'switches' for neurodegenerative diseases

November 27, 2012, University of Montreal

By using a model, researchers at the University of Montreal have identified and "switched off" a chemical chain that causes neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and dementia. The findings could one day be of particular therapeutic benefit to Huntington's disease patients.

"We've identified a new way to protect neurons that express mutant huntingtin proteins," explained Dr. Alex Parker of the University of Montreal's Department of Pathology and Cell Biology and its affiliated CRCHUM Research Centre. A cardinal feature of Huntington's disease – a fatal genetic disease that typically affects patients in midlife and causes progressive death of specific areas of the brain – is the aggregation of mutant in cells. "Our model revealed that increasing another cell chemical called progranulin reduced the death of neurons by combating the accumulation of the mutant proteins. Furthermore, this approach may protect against other than Huntington's disease."

There is no cure for Huntingdon's disease and current strategies show only modest benefits, and a component of the involved are also present in other . "My team and I wondered if the proteins in question, TDP-43 and FUS, were just innocent bystanders or if they affected the toxicity caused by mutant huntingtin," Dr. Parker said. To answer this question, Dr. Parker and University of Montreal doctoral student Arnaud Tauffenberger turned to a simple genetic model based on the expression of mutant huntingtin in the nervous system of the transparent roundworm C. elegans. A large number of human disease genes are conserved in worms, and C. elegans in particular enables researchers to rapidly conduct genetic analyses that would not be possible in mammals.

Dr. Parker's team found that deleting the TDP-43 and FUS genes, which produce the proteins of the same name, reduced neurodegeneration caused by mutant huntingtin. They then confirmed their findings in the cell of a mammal cell, again by using models. The next step was then to determining how neuroprotection works. TDP-43 targets a chemical called progranulin, a protein linked to dementia. "We demonstrated that removing progranulin from either worms or cells enhanced huntingtin toxicity, but increasing progranulin reduced cell death in mammalian neurons. This points towards progranulin as a potent neuroprotective agent against mutant huntingtin neurodegeneration," Dr. Parker said. The researchers will need to do further testing this in more complex biological models to determine if the same chemical switches work in all mammals. If they do, then progranulin treatment may slow disease onset or progression in Huntington's disease patients.

Explore further: Regulatory enzyme overexpression may protect against neurodegeneration in Huntington's disease

Related Stories

Regulatory enzyme overexpression may protect against neurodegeneration in Huntington's disease

December 18, 2011
Treatment that increases brain levels of an important regulatory enzyme may slow the loss of brain cells that characterizes Huntington's disease (HD) and other neurodegenerative disorders. In a report receiving advance online ...

Scientists tackle Huntington's disease by targeting mutant gene

November 6, 2012
Huntington's disease is an inherited, neurodegenerative disorder that usually appears in mid-adult life and leads to uncoordinated body movements and cognitive decline. The disease is due to multiple repetitions of a deoxyribonucleic ...

Disease progression halted in rat model of Lou Gehrig's disease

December 12, 2011
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) is an incurable adult neurodegenerative disorder that progresses to paralysis and death. Genetic mutations are the cause of disease in 5% of patients ...

Recommended for you

New neuron-like cells allow investigation into synthesis of vital cellular components

January 22, 2018
Neuron-like cells created from a readily available cell line have allowed researchers to investigate how the human brain makes a metabolic building block essential for the survival of all living organisms. A team led by researchers ...

Finding unravels nature of cognitive inflexibility in fragile X syndrome

January 22, 2018
Mice with the genetic defect that causes fragile X syndrome (FXS) learn and remember normally, but show an inability to learn new information that contradicts what they initially learned, shows a new study by a team of neuroscientists. ...

Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences

January 22, 2018
Epilepsy is associated with thickness and volume differences in the grey matter of several brain regions, according to new research led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.