L-serine, a naturally occurring amino acid, is gaining increased attention from scientists as a possible treatment for ALS following a new study published recently in the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology that suggests L-serine successfully reduced ALS-like changes in an animal model of ALS.

The scientists conducted the vervet study at the Behavioural Science Foundation, a specialized research facility on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. After being exposed to a cyanobacterial neurotoxin called BMAA, the vervets developed aggregations of misfolded proteins similar to those seen in human ALS patients, and activated microglia, a type of immune cells, in their spinal cord and brain, similar to those that occur in the early stages of ALS. In contrast, vervets that also received the amino acid L-serine had significantly reduced ALS pathology.

The differences were profound, according to Dr David Davis at the Department of Neurology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who served as first author on the paper, in a media release from Brain Chemistry Labs.

“Without L-serine co-administration, the BMAA-exposed vervets developed motor neuron degeneration, pro-inflammatory microglia and dense inclusions of TDP-43 and other misfolded proteins known to be associated with ALS,” Davis says. “In animals dosed with L-serine, the progression of these ALS-like changes was considerably reduced.”

Neurobiologist Dr Deborah Mash of Nova Southeastern University, who was also an author on the study, states that the results “holds promise for identifying a cause of sporadic ALS, which accounts for 90 percent of all ALS cases.”

L-serine is one of the twenty amino acids that make up human proteins. L-serine molecules in proteins are often the site where proteins are phosphorylated, or charged, so they can be properly folded, the release continues.

“Think of a charging port for an electric car,” notes Dr Paul Alan Cox, Executive Director of the Brain Chemistry Labs in Jackson Hole. “If the cable can’t be connected there, the car can’t be charged.”

Scientists at the Brain Chemistry Labs have also discovered that L-serine modulates the unfolded protein response which helps protect neurons from the damage produced by misfolded proteins.

“While these data provide valuable insights, we do not yet know if L-serine will improve outcomes for human patients with ALS,” cautions ALS expert Dr Walter Bradley, who was also an author on the study, in the release.

“We need to carefully continue FDA-approved clinical trials before we can recommend that L-serine be added to the neurologists’ toolbox for the treatment of ALS. However, this vervet BMAA model will be an important new tool in the quest for new drugs to treat ALS.”

[Source(s): Brain Chemistry Labs, EurekAlert]