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Investigation of microbiota mediated suppression of motor neuron degeneration in genetic models of ALS

Principal Investigator:
  • Alex Parker, Université de Montréal
  • ALS Society of Canada

Project Overview

Scientists have long wondered what the contribution of environment is to ALS and in recent years the idea that a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers has taken shape. Furthermore, one of the emerging areas of interest for environmental exposure is the gastrointestinal tract and how dietary exposures might influence our nervous system through something called the gut-brain axis. Dr. Alex Parker is an expert on studying the biology of tiny worms called C. elegans, including using them as animal models to understand ALS and screen for potential treatments. When worms are altered to have a mutant gene -that causes ALS in humans, they get motor neuron degeneration and paralysis. Through a partnership with a company aimed at studying fat accumulation when worms were exposed to probiotics (helpful bacteria, as in certain yogurts, that are considered healthy for your digestive system) in their food, Dr. Parker serendipitously discovered that feeding the worms some of these probiotics also slowed down progression of symptoms in ALS worms. In this Discovery Grant, Dr. Parker will more closely examine how this neuroprotection occurs and what the underlying biology is that explains the effect. Understanding how dietary probiotics might alter cellular mechanisms in worm that may be protective in ALS may not only tell us more about the disease and the influence of environmental factors, but may also reveal information about the potential for interesting new types of experimental treatments.