Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have identified a protein that improves muscular metabolism, motor coordination and exercise performance in mice. The findings, published in Cell Metabolism, could be of therapeutic value for patients with muscle and neurological diseases, such as ALS.
In the current study, researchers at Karolinska Institutet wanted to know how a muscle-produced protein called neurturin affects neuromuscular function. Understanding what signals mediate motor neuron and muscle communication is essential for exploring new treatments for muscle-related and neurological diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The researchers found that mice that were genetically modified to produce more neurturin in muscle cells significantly improved their muscle metabolism, exercise performance and motor coordination compared to regular mice. The high neurturin mice also had an increased number of motor neurons of a type that is more resistant to degeneration in diseases like ALS.
“To find out that a molecule released from muscle fibres can actually change motor neuron identity, shifting them to a type that is associated with more resistance to degeneration opens really exciting possibilities for the future,” Jorge Ruas adds.
As a next step, the researchers are hoping to explore the therapeutic possibilities of neurturin in mouse models of type 2 diabetes, obesity and ALS. They are also working on modifying the administration of neurturin to allow it to be used as a potential drug.
Journal Reference: Muscle-secreted neurturin couples myofiber oxidative metabolism and slow motor neuron identity. Cell Metabolism, 2021 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2021.09.003