Friday, 27 September 2013

Breakthrough discovery links blue-green algae with motor neuron disease

While neurodegenerative and motor neuron diseases like#Alzheimer's, #ALS, and #Parkinson's involve aggregates of misfolded proteins accumulating and affecting neurons, there has been limited exploration of environmental factors that can cause protein misfolding.
An international team of researchers have investigated a widely known link between exposure to blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in water and foodstuffs and an increased incidence of motor neuron diseases such as ALS. They have identified that a non-protein amino acid produced by blue-green algae known as BMAA (β-methylamino-L-alanine) can cause protein misfolding. During protein synthesis, they found the body mistakes BMAA for the amino acid L-serine and incorrectly inserts it in its place, causing the protein to misfold. These faulty proteins build up in neurons (including motor neurons, pictured) and eventually cause it to degenerate or die. However, the researchers also discovered that L-serine can be used to block the incorporation of BMAA into proteins. Further work can be done to evaluate this finding and design potential therapies for ALS.

Read more:
Journal article: The Non-Protein Amino Acid BMAA Is Misincorporated into Human Proteins in Place of l-Serine Causing Protein Misfolding and Aggregation.