Spatiotemporal dynamics of molecular pathology in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

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Science  05 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6435, pp. 89-93
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav9776

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Spatiotemporal gene expression in ALS

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive motor neuron disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It has proven difficult to identify the early stages of disease and where it spreads within the body. Maniatis et al. used RNA sequencing to define transcriptomic changes over the course of disease in different regions of the spinal cord of a mouse ALS model and a postmortem human ALS spinal cord. From changes in gene expression, they identified disease-associated pathways and established the key steps in motor neuron degeneration observed in ALS.

Science, this issue p. 89


Paralysis occurring in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) results from denervation of skeletal muscle as a consequence of motor neuron degeneration. Interactions between motor neurons and glia contribute to motor neuron loss, but the spatiotemporal ordering of molecular events that drive these processes in intact spinal tissue remains poorly understood. Here, we use spatial transcriptomics to obtain gene expression measurements of mouse spinal cords over the course of disease, as well as of postmortem tissue from ALS patients, to characterize the underlying molecular mechanisms in ALS. We identify pathway dynamics, distinguish regional differences between microglia and astrocyte populations at early time points, and discern perturbations in several transcriptional pathways shared between murine models of ALS and human postmortem spinal cords.

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