A team of German and Belgian researchers has succeeded in gaining new insights into the causes of certain movement disorders and forms of dementia. Scientists including Bettina Schmid and Christian Haass from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Munich and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) were able to reproduce disease symptoms typical of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) in zebrafish. A shortage of a protein called TDP-43 caused muscle wasting and stunted nerve cells.
This finding supports the idea that malfunction of this protein plays a decisive role in ALS and FTD. The study is published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA” (PNAS).
ALS is an incurable neurological disease which manifests as rapidly progressing muscle wasting. Both limbs and respiratory muscles are affected. This leads to impaired mobility and breathing problems. Patients commonly die within a few years after the symptoms emerged. In rare cases, of which the British physicist Stephen Hawking is the most notable, patients can live with the disease for a long time. In Germany estimates show over 150,000 patients suffering from ALS – an average of 1 in 500 people.
Proteins gone astray
Over the last few years, there has been increasing evidence that ALS and FTD – a form of dementia associated with changes in personality and social behaviour – may have similar or even the same origins. The symptoms overlap and common factors have also been found at the microscopic level. In many cases, particles accumulate and form clumps in the patient’s nerve cells: this applies particularly to the TDP-43 protein.
“Normally, this protein is located in the cell nucleus and is involved in processing genetic information,” explains molecular biologist Dr. Bettina Schmid, who works at the DZNE Munich site and at LMU. “However, in cases of disease, TDP-43 accumulates outside the nucleus forming aggregates.” Schmid explains that it is not yet clear whether these clumps are harmful. “However, the protein’s normal function is clearly disrupted. It no longer reaches the nucleus to perform its actual task. There seems to be a relationship between this malfunction and the disease.”
Studies on zebrafish
However, until now little was known about the function of TDP-43. What are the consequences when this protein becomes non-functional? In order to answer this question, the team led by Bettina Schmid cooperated with the research group of Prof. Christian Haass to investigate the larvae of specially bred zebrafish. Their genetic code had been modified in such a way that no TDP-43 was produced in the organism of the fish. The result: the young fish showed massive muscle wasting and died a few days after hatching. Moreover, the extensions of the nerve cells which control the muscles were abnormal.
“To some extent, these are symptoms typical of ALS and FTD. Therefore, a loss of function of TDP-43 does seem to play a critical role in the disease,” says Haass, Site Speaker of the DZNE Munich Site and chair of Metabolic Biochemistry at LMU.
The study revealed one more finding which surprised the researchers: the blood flow of the fish was massively disturbed. “It is well known that circulatory disorders play a part in other forms of dementia, notably in the case of Alzheimer’s,” says Haass. “We now want to investigate whether such problems with blood flow may be a general problem of neurodegenerative diseases and whether such problems occur particularly in patients with ALS and FTD.”
„Loss of ALS-associated TDP-43 in zebrafish causes muscle degeneration, vascular dysfunction, and reduced motor neuron outgrowth”, Bettina Schmid, Alexander Hruscha, Sebastian Hogl, Julia Banzhaf-Strathmann, Kathrin Strecker, Julie van der Zee, Mathias Teucke, Stefan Eimer, Jan Hegermann, Maike Kittelmann, Elisabeth Kremmer, Marc Cruts, Barbara Solchenberger, Laura Hasenkamp, Frauke van Bebber, Christine van Broeckhoven, Dieter Edbauer, Stefan F. Lichtenthaler, Christian Haass, PNAS http://www.pnas.org/.
Dr. Marcus Neitzert | Source: Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information: www.pnas.org
More articles from Life Sciences:
Study details genes that control whether tumors adapt or die when faced with p53 activating drugs
23.05.2013 | University of Colorado Denver
Scientists announce Top 10 New Species
23.05.2013 | Arizona State University
New indicator molecules visualise the activation of auto-aggressive T cells in the body as never before
Biological processes are generally based on events at the molecular and cellular level. To understand what happens in the course of infections, diseases or normal bodily functions, scientists would need to examine individual cells and their activity directly in the tissue.
The development of new microscopes and fluorescent dyes in ...
A fried breakfast food popular in Spain provided the inspiration for the development of doughnut-shaped droplets that may provide scientists with a new approach for studying fundamental issues in physics, mathematics and materials.
The doughnut-shaped droplets, a shape known as toroidal, are formed from two dissimilar liquids using a simple rotating stage and an injection needle. About a millimeter in overall size, the droplets are produced individually, their shapes maintained by a surrounding springy material made of polymers.
Droplets in this toroidal shape made ...
Frauhofer FEP will present a novel roll-to-roll manufacturing process for high-barriers and functional films for flexible displays at the SID DisplayWeek 2013 in Vancouver – the International showcase for the Display Industry.
Displays that are flexible and paper thin at the same time?! What might still seem like science fiction will be a major topic at the SID Display Week 2013 that currently takes place in Vancouver in Canada.
High manufacturing cost and a short lifetime are still a major obstacle on ...
University of Würzburg physicists have succeeded in creating a new type of laser.
Its operation principle is completely different from conventional devices, which opens up the possibility of a significantly reduced energy input requirement. The researchers report their work in the current issue of Nature.
It also emits light the waves of which are in phase with one another: the polariton laser, developed ...
Innsbruck physicists led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller experimentally gained a deep insight into the nature of quantum mechanical phase transitions.
They are the first scientists that simulated the competition between two rival dynamical processes at a novel type of transition between two quantum mechanical orders. They have published the results of their work in the journal Nature Physics.
“When water boils, its molecules are released as vapor. We call this ...
23.05.2013 | Physics and Astronomy
23.05.2013 | Health and Medicine
23.05.2013 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
17.05.2013 | Event News
15.05.2013 | Event News
08.05.2013 | Event News