By Jacob Ahlstrom | Posted - May 31st, 2020





Microorganism Involvement in ALS Progression

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons in the central nervous system. For years, researchers have been investigating several types of treatment to help fight ALS. Recent studies analyze bacteria in the body to see how they affect disease onset.

Our bodies are host to trillions of bacteria living in our gut. These bacteria serve as a hub for communication between the environment and the host. When this ecosystem of bacteria is altered, the body reacts to the new environment in a lot of different ways. These bacteria, called microflora or microorganisms, are essential for human health. Microflora help digest our food, boost our immune system, produce vitamins, and protect us or our bodies against other disease-causing bacteria. 

This system of microorganisms is frequently altered in ALS patients compared to the general population. After further investigation researchers have found that these alterations can increase the speed of neurodegeneration and may contribute to early mortality. However, studies also show that microorganisms can improve motor behavior and increase life span. 

A study done at Harvard University observed ALS mice models with the C9orf72 gene. The C90rf72 is the most common genetic variant that contributes to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia. 

The mice raised in the Harvard lab displayed common ALS symptoms including exasperated movement and shorter life spans. The research team then reared mice in another lab at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. The mice in this new institute had longer life spans and less movement problems. 

After excluding all other factors the researchers compared the bacterial profiles of the mice in different labs. The results show that a particular virus and bacteria were more common at the Harvard facility compared to the Broad Institute. After further comparison they discovered that the Harvard mice had a less diverse bacterial profile than the mice at the Broad Institute. 

Additional testing shows that microorganisms are directly correlated to disease progression in ALS mice models.

To further investigate the effect that microorganisms have on the Harvard mice the researchers used antibiotics to kill off the bacteria. They also transplanted bacteria from the Broad mice into the Harvard mice. Both of these experiments resulted in an increase in life expectancy and muscle movement in the mice.

More research needs to be done in order to distinguish which bacteria are involved in slowing disease progression. Once these bacteria are isolated we can better understand how the environment and various genetic factors affect ALS. Further research may even give us insight into new targets for future treatments. 

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Jacob Ahlstrom
About the Author

Jacob Ahlstrom - Jacob is a Neuroscience undergraduate at Brigham Young University. Jacob's interest in researching and writing about ALS is fueled by his hope to make the process easier for everyone else. Over the last year he has worked alongside Seth Christensen to find ways to educate and connect ALS patients.