Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Decoding alpha motor neurons diversity and selective vulnerability to disease

Project description

Untangling why some motor neurons succumb more quickly to disease than others

Alpha motor neurons (aMNs), also called lower motor neurons, are the largest neurons in the spinal cord. They innervate muscles and cause them to contract. Damage to aMNs cause impaired movement or paralysis and is associated with a variety of neuromuscular disorders, diseases and trauma. There are three main types of aMN depending on the type of muscle fibre they innervate: slow-twitch fatigue-resistant (SFR), fast-twitch fatigue-resistant (FFR) and fast-twitch fatigable (FF). FF aMNs are particularly vulnerable to many disease states. MOVEMeNt is investigating differences in genetic markers among the three to elucidate disease vulnerability and resistance. Along the way, they will provide the complete transcriptome for all three types of aMNs for the first time.


Alpha motor neurons (aMN) are a clinically relevant neuronal population that selectively degenerates in neuromuscular diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and spinal bulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA). Distinct classes of aMNs (SFR, FFR and FF) degenerate at different rate in these diseases, with the fast fatigable (FF) MNs degenerating first. The molecular mechanisms underlying this selective vulnerability are only partially known. Understanding the molecular logics that shape the identity and function of aMN subtypes in vivo is directly relevant to the development of novel therapeutic strategies. Here I propose to harmonically integrate my solid background in dissecting the molecular fingerprints of distinct neuronal subtypes in adult mice by undertaking new technologies I pioneered at Harvard University, with new skills and knowledge I will build at the Host Institution, which will be critical for the successful achievement of my goal. The overreaching goal of MOVEMeNt is to identify the molecular substrate of disease vulnerability in aMNs. I will (Aim 1) isolate and FACS-purify aMN-nuclei from adult mouse spinal cords, based on the specific expression of aMN markers. Single cell transcriptomic analysis will reveal class-specific molecular fingerprints, including factors playing key roles in suptype-specific development, function, and disease vulnerability. I will also (Aim2) analyze the transcriptional changes of differentially vulnerable aMN classes upon retrograde labeling and functional denervation by neurotoxin intoxication. This work will return candidate genes directly controlling terminal sprouting and remodeling, critical steps that disease-resistant aMN subtypes normally undertake for neuronal loss compensation upon insult. More broadly, I aim to contribute in filling an important knowledge gap by generating the first transcriptomic roadmap of aMN subtypes, and pinpointing at new candidates for therapy development.



Net EU contribution
€ 183 473,28
Via 8 febbraio 2
35122 Padova

See on map

Nord-Est Veneto Padova
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00