Exploring the interaction between TDP-43 and RNA

In light of the upcoming Biomedical Research Advisory Panel meeting happening on Friday 7 April that will discuss which new research projects the MND Association will fund, we are pleased to report on the progress of one of our already-funded researchers. In their three year project, funded by the MND Association, Prof Annalisa Pastore (King’s College London) and Prof Gian Tartaglia (University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona) are investigating the process by which TDP-43 binds to RNA. Below is a summary of the progress they made during their first year.

Background to the project

Alumni Board Meeting 2008

Annalisa Pastore, King’s College London

One of the causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the most common type of motor neurone disease (MND), is related to faulty functioning of the TDP-43 protein, a component that is naturally present in all of our cells. In healthy cells, TDP-43 resides in the centre of a cell (the nucleus) where it attaches to RNA and supports correct gene expression – that is, it helps to extract information carried by a gene to form proteins, the main building blocks of our bodies.

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How faulty proteins disrupt waste recycling and disposal inside nerve cells

Researchers from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) at the University of Sheffield have uncovered a new function of the C9orf72 protein. A paper on their work has recently been published in the EMBO Journal.

A change or mutation to the C9orf72 gene is linked to about 40% of cases of inherited MND. We also know that changes to this gene also occur in a type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia (FTD). However, the reasons behind this link have so far been unclear.

One of the main research routes towards explaining the link between the C9orf72 gene and MND is to work out the normal function of this gene. By studying the protein the gene produces, researchers can see how alterations to this protein and the processes it is involved with result in nerve cell damage in MND. Continue reading

Research on the best practical support for people with cognitive change

We know that some people with MND will be affected by cognitive change and a small proportion of these will develop frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The symptoms of cognitive change include changes in planning and decision making.

To help support people with MND who have these symptoms, and their families and carers, we need to firstly identify or confirm these signs are present and then to find ways to help manage them.

The Edinburgh Cognitive and Behavioural ALS Screen (known as ECAS) has been widely adopted as a good method of detecting symptoms of cognitive change. ECAS is a series of tests that are quick to do in the clinic and are specific to MND. Continue reading

Is frontotemporal dementia different when found with MND?

Some people with MND develop an increasingly recognised form of dementia, known as frontotemporal dementia  or FTD (for more information visit http://www.ftdtalk.org/). The main symptoms of FTD include alterations in decision making, behaviour and difficulty with language.

The relationship between MND and FTD is not well understood. Prof Julie Snowden and PhD student Jennie Saxon at the Cerebral Function Unit in Salford (University of Manchester) are aiming to establish whether MND combined with FTD is subtly different to when FTD is found on its own (our grant reference: 872-792).

People diagnosed with FTD-MND, with FTD alone, and those with no form of dementia will perform a series of short cognitive tasks. These will test things including a person’s ability to recognise emotions, draw inferences about the thoughts of others, their ability to concentrate, organise actions and understand language. Continue reading

More clues to the inner workings of the C9orf72 gene

Continuing the ‘gene hunting theme’ on from our last blog post on Project MinE, a recently published study has shed more light on the C9orf72 gene mutation.

The C9orf72 gene mutation is the most common cause of the rare inherited form of MND (about 40% of all people with inherited MND have this mutation). Some people with the sporadic form of MND also have this mutation, and it has been linked to the development of a type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

Figuring out the normal function of C9orf72

A study by Jacqueline O’Rourke and colleagues at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles used mice that lacked the equivalent gene to C9orf72.

When this gene was absent, the mice developed normally and their motor nerve cells were unaffected.

From this evidence they discounted one of theories about the C9orf72 mutation – that a change to the gene stops it working entirely and that this affects the health of motor neurons. Continue reading

Spreading the seeds of an idea: MND disease pathology

With motor neurone disease (MND), the muscle weakness almost always starts in a single part of the body, with the weakness then spreading to other muscles in an orderly fashion. Neurologists are usually quite good at predicting which muscles will be affected next, slightly less so at predicting when this will happen.

The physical changes on the outside will be reflecting events occurring in the ‘closed box’ that is the brain and spinal cord. The latest imaging techniques are starting to give us more of a picture of what’s happening in the central nervous system as the disease progresses, but further technological advances will still need to be made. The clearest picture still comes from the study of generously donated and incredibly valuable post-mortem tissue.

The second day of the Symposium saw researchers present in the Clinical-Pathological Correlates of Disease Progression session, focussing on how to understand disease progression, the role of prions in neurodegenerative diseases and the relationship between MND and frontotemporal dementia. Continue reading

Are there differences between FTD alone and FTD-MND?

The last of our FTD awareness week blog posts is focussing on a healthcare project looking into FTD (frontotemporal dementia) and FTD-MND (FTD when combined with MND). The project began last year and is being part-funded by us.

Jennie Adams

Jennie Adams

Professor Julie Snowden and PhD student Jennie Adams at the Cerebral Function Unit in Salford (University of Manchester) are looking into the behavioural and cognitive aspects of FTD and FTD-MND.

They are aiming to work out if there are any differences in thinking or behaviour between people who have MND-FTD and those who have FTD on its own.

For example this could be looking to see if people with FTD-MND tend to show more difficulties with language, but not have many changes relating to behaviour. Or if people with ‘pure’ FTD show more difficulties with appropriate behaviour in public, compared to organisation and planning skills. Continue reading

Hunting for clues about the genetic causes of FTD and MND

Yesterday we published an introductory blog on frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and described how it is sometimes found in combination with MND.

Today we are looking at a biomedical project on FTD and MND that we are funding.

The project

Dr Olaf Ansorge and Professor Kevin Talbot of Oxford University are leading a biomedical project aimed at identifying cell changes in the brain tissues of people who had MND, FTD, or developed both conditions (FTD-MND).

The aim of their research project is to identify which nerve cells within the brain are most likely to be affected by faulty proteins known to contribute to both FTD and MND. Knowing which brain cells are affected, and by which proteins, will help explain the genetic differences between the two conditions. Continue reading

Cognitive Change and MND

In addition to the muscle weakness and wasting, MND also presents with non-motor symptoms, one of the most common being cognitive change.

Research has already shown that changes can occur to the nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobe areas of the brain. These are the two areas which are responsible for controlling thinking, reasoning and behaviour.

Frontotemporal dementia, or FTD for short, is a rare form of dementia (cognitive impairment). One sub-type of FTD is sometimes found in people who have MND.

The first ever World FTD Awareness week is being held between 4-11 October.

To help raise awareness we are posting a series of blogs this week looking at FTD and research we are funding into this condition.

What is FTD?brain

The main symptoms of FTD are linked to behavioural and mood changes, such as loss of inhibitions, being unable to empathise with others, or showing repetitive behaviours.

Many people with FTD also have changes to their speech and vocabulary, such as using the wrong word for something – for example calling a sheep a dog, or becoming less articulate in their speech. Some people can also gradually lose their ability to speak.

Thinking can also be affected, with FTD affecting someone’s ability to plan properly and their organisational skills.

FTD is brought about by nerve cells within the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain dying, because the pathways connecting the nerve cells to each other become altered. The chemical messengers that pass on information from one nerve to another can sometimes also be lost.

More information on FTD can be found on the NHS website, FTD Talk website or on the FTD support forum.

There are also two information sheets that the Association produce covering changes to thinking: ‘Will the way I think be affected?‘ and ‘How do I support someone if the way they think is affected?‘.

Healthcare professionals can also access our resources on cognitive change, FTD and MND on the ‘For professionals’ area on our website. Continue reading

Is MND/FTD the same as FTD alone?

brain Association-funded researcher, Prof Julie Snowden from the University of Manchester was invited to present her research on MND and frontotemporal dementia at this year’s 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND. She is asking whether people living with MND and frontotemporal dementia develop a different form of dementia that is different to those with frontotemporal dementia alone.

In 2011, when researchers discovered the C9orf72 inherited-MND gene, it was also linked to the related neurodegenerative disease frontotemporal dementia (find out more about inherited MND here). This increasingly recognised form of dementia has different signs and symptoms to the more common Alzheimer’s disease, but is less understood.

Researchers are now studying these previously separate diseases together. By working collaboratively with dementia researchers, we are beginning to understand this gene and the link between the two diseases. But what precisely is this link? In the past there were distinct disorders? Prof Snowden answered these questions as thinking of MND and FTD as a spectrum.  Continue reading