ReportsAmyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

The Src/c-Abl pathway is a potential therapeutic target in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

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Science Translational Medicine  24 May 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 391, eaaf3962
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf3962

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A stepping stone to ALS drug discovery

ALS is a heterogeneous motor neuron disease for which there is no treatment and for which a common therapeutic target has yet to be identified. In a new study, Imamura et al. developed a drug screen using motor neurons generated from ALS patient induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). They screened existing drugs and showed that inhibitors of Src/c-Abl kinases promoted autophagy and rescued ALS motor neurons from degeneration. One of the drugs was effective for promoting survival of motor neurons derived from ALS patients with different genetic mutations. The Src/c-Abl pathway may be a potential therapeutic target for developing new drugs to treat ALS.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal disease causing progressive loss of motor neurons, still has no effective treatment. We developed a phenotypic screen to repurpose existing drugs using ALS motor neuron survival as readout. Motor neurons were generated from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from an ALS patient with a mutation in superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1). Results of the screen showed that more than half of the hits targeted the Src/c-Abl signaling pathway. Src/c-Abl inhibitors increased survival of ALS iPSC-derived motor neurons in vitro. Knockdown of Src or c-Abl with small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) also rescued ALS motor neuron degeneration. One of the hits, bosutinib, boosted autophagy, reduced the amount of misfolded mutant SOD1 protein, and attenuated altered expression of mitochondrial genes. Bosutinib also increased survival in vitro of ALS iPSC-derived motor neurons from patients with sporadic ALS or other forms of familial ALS caused by mutations in TAR DNA binding protein (TDP-43) or repeat expansions in C9orf72. Furthermore, bosutinib treatment modestly extended survival of a mouse model of ALS with an SOD1 mutation, suggesting that Src/c-Abl may be a potentially useful target for developing new drugs to treat ALS.

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