BMC genomics

Pathways and genes differentially expressed in the motor cortex of patients with sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

PMID 17244347


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal disorder caused by the progressive degeneration of motoneurons in brain and spinal cord. Despite identification of disease-linked mutations, the diversity of processes involved and the ambiguity of their relative importance in ALS pathogenesis still represent a major impediment to disease models as a basis for effective therapies. Moreover, the human motor cortex, although critical to ALS pathology and physiologically altered in most forms of the disease, has not been screened systematically for therapeutic targets. By whole-genome expression profiling and stringent significance tests we identify genes and gene groups de-regulated in the motor cortex of patients with sporadic ALS, and interpret the role of individual candidate genes in a framework of differentially expressed pathways. Our findings emphasize the importance of defense responses and cytoskeletal, mitochondrial and proteasomal dysfunction, reflect reduced neuronal maintenance and vesicle trafficking, and implicate impaired ion homeostasis and glycolysis in ALS pathogenesis. Additionally, we compared our dataset with publicly available data for the SALS spinal cord, and show a high correlation of changes linked to the diseased state in the SALS motor cortex. In an analogous comparison with data for the Alzheimer's disease hippocampus we demonstrate a low correlation of global changes and a moderate correlation for changes specifically linked to the SALS diseased state. Gene and sample numbers investigated allow pathway- and gene-based analyses by established error-correction methods, drawing a molecular portrait of the ALS motor cortex that faithfully represents many known disease features and uncovers several novel aspects of ALS pathology. Contrary to expectations for a tissue under oxidative stress, nuclear-encoded mitochondrial genes are uniformly down-regulated. Moreover, the down-regulation of mitochondrial and glycolytic genes implies a combined reduction of mitochondrial and cytoplasmic energy supply, with a possible role in the death of ALS motoneurons. Identifying candidate genes exclusively expressed in non-neuronal cells, we also highlight the importance of these cells in disease development in the motor cortex. Notably, some pathways and candidate genes identified by this study are direct or indirect targets of medication already applied to unrelated illnesses and point the way towards the rapid development of effective symptomatic ALS therapies.