MDA awarded $180,000 to research scientist Brian Freibaum at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., for research into the mechanism by which toxic TDP43 protein leads to the development and progression of some forms of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease).
Prior research has suggested that mutant (flawed) TDP43 protein is a critical component in the development of some forms of ALS, although the mechanism by which it works remains unknown. Freibaum has planned a three-tiered approach to uncover the protein's role in the disease.
First, Freibaum's team will test for toxicity in various tissues of fruit flies engineered to carry the human TDP43 gene. Using different mutant (flawed) and shortened forms of the protein is expected to help pinpoint what parts of the TDP43 protein are required for disease progression.
Next, the team will use human cell lines and mouse motor neurons (nerve cells that control muscle) to explore how TDP43 interacts with other proteins, where it normally localizes in the cell, and whether these locations are altered with mutant forms of the protein. Further experiments will be used to determine what other proteins interact with normal and flawed TDP43 protein.
Finally, the group will use the fruit fly model to perform genetic screens designed to explore how other proteins cooperate with mutant TDP43 to induce toxicity in motor neurons.
Greater understanding of the role TDP43 plays in ALS will help provide a more targeted approach to the development of new therapies.
"I am honored to be funded by such a prestigious organization that has a strong history in the advancement of neuromuscular disease research," Freibaum said. "This funding will be of great significance to our lab’s ALS research."
Funding for this MDA grant began August 1, 2010.