Previous research in humans and zebrafish has shown that before symptoms arise in MND, early changes occur in the interneurones. This type of nerve cell provide a link between the upper and lower motor neurones in the brain and spinal cord.
The job of one type of interneurone (called inhibitory interneurones) is to apply the brakes on motor neurones. They work just like brakes on a bike stop the wheels from moving.
The interneurones control when chemical signals/messages (or action potentials) can be passed along the nerve cell. In MND these brakes are less effective (so to use the bike analogy, the brakes might be rusty or not connected properly).
Interneurones are being studied in more detail in a project led by Dr Jonathan McDearmid (University of Leicester), in collaboration with Dr Tennore Ramesh and Prof Dame Pamela Shaw (Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience) (our reference: 835-791).
Dr Ramesh recently completed an Association-funded project studying neuronal stress (damage to cells) in a zebrafish model of MND. His research found that the nerve cells most susceptible to damage were inhibitory interneurones. They also discovered that neuronal stress happens to interneurones first, and then spreads from these to the motor neurones.
Dr McDearmid’s study, which began last November, will investigate if the early defects that occur in interneurones can be targeted as a potential treatment for MND, in order to slow, or even prevent, the onset of symptoms. These studies, carried out in zebrafish, will be conducted looking specifically at the electrical activity of the interneurones. Electrical activity refers to the chemical messages and information passed from one nerve cell to another.
This study will help us better understand the causes behind the earliest changes that happen to nerve cells in MND, sometimes long before symptoms are visible.
For more information on funding research involving animals please see our website: www.mndassociation.org/animalresearch
Throughout June 2016 MND Awareness Month will be highlighting the rapid progression of the disease in its powerful Shortened Stories campaign, sharing the experiences of people currently living with MND, or who have lost loved ones to the disease, through art, poetry and film.