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Synapse loss may underlie brain changes in MND

Dr Chris Henstridge and Professor Tara Spires-Jones (both Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences) and colleagues have published a study which sheds light on how motor neurone disease (MND) affects the processes within the brain.

The study used a combination of genetic screening, cognitive profiling and high-resolution imaging. The imaging techniques were used in MND for the first time, allowing the researchers to view synapses in more detail than ever before. Results showed that synpase loss in the prefrontal cortex is associated with a decline in brain function, including thinking, planning, reasoning and emotions. During the study comparisons were made between people with and without MND, and the MND group were further split into two groups - those who had experiences changes in their behaviour/ thinking, and those who had not. 


Up to 50% of ALS patients have some kind of change in brain function as well as motor problems. For a long time, researchers have tried to uncover the mechanism that might be driving this change in brain function, but have struggled. For the first time, we have discovered that a breakdown in connections between neurons in the brain is associated with a decline in brain function in ALS. Interestingly, synapse loss is a common feature of many neurodegenerative diseases in which a decline in brain function occurs, such as Alzheimer’s disease... When synapse loss was first correlated with cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease, it kick started a huge field of synapse-focused research which has led to significant advancements in our understanding of the disease and even resulted in clinical trials of synapse-targeted therapeutics. My hope is that our new findings will initiate a similar wave of important research and ultimately lead to novel therapies for MND

Dr Chris Henstridge nameSenior Postdoctoral Associate - Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences


Original Acta Neuropathol article

Scotsman article

Dr Chris Henstridge's research profile

Professor Tara Spires-Jones's research profile