Editor's Highlight: Embryonic Exposure to the Environmental Neurotoxin BMAA Negatively Impacts Early Neuronal Development and Progression of Neurodegeneration in the Sod1-G93R Zebrafish Model of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

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Abstract

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disorder leading to progressive paralysis and death within 2-5 years after diagnosis. Sporadic cases (SALS) comprise approximately 90% of cases with the remaining 10% familial (FALS) caused by mutations in approximately 27 genes. The vast heterogeneity seen in age and location of disease onset, rate of progression, and duration of disease has been linked with genetic and environmental influences in both SALS and FALS cases. Increased ALS incidence clusters in Guam, southern France, and Maryland have been linked with exposure to Beta-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), a nonproteinogenic amino acid produced by cyanobacteria, dinoflaggelates, and diatoms. We embryonically exposed zebrafish, Danio rerio, (transgenically overexpressing a FALS-causing SOD1-G93R mutation) to BMAA to investigate early motor neuron outgrowth in larvae and endurance and fatigability in 5-month adults. SOD1-G93R zebrafish showed decreased embryonic nerve length with increased BMAA dose, a phenotypic change mirrored in 5-month performance measures of weaker swimming and increased fatigability. In contrast, transgenic fish overexpressing wild-type SOD1 were resistant to phenotypic changes, indicating a potential neuroprotective function of healthy SOD1. We show that the etiology of genetic ALS animal models can be influenced by environmental exposures, and that embryonic toxin exposures can result in changes to both early and adult measures. We demonstrate that zebrafish can be a robust model for investigating causes of ALS heterogeneity. Establishing these links between developmental and adult ALS-like symptoms in the zebrafish increases the power of this model for toxicological and drug screens.

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