Investigating ALS as a disease of the Tripartite Synapse

To assess how and when tripartite synapses are affected in MND and to be able to identify contributing factors to changes seen.

Gareth Miles of the Neuro-science department at St Andrews University who conducts research into finding a cure for Motor Neurone Disease

Lead Investigator: Prof Gareth Miles

Lead Institution: University of St Andrews

MND Association Funding: £200,000*

Funding dates: December 2018 - July 2022

*Supported by the Robert Barr’s Charitable Trust

About the project

Research has suggested that the death of motor neurons in MND might be due to disruptions in the connections between neurons, called synapses. These connections are how neurons communicate to each other, via chemical messages, and to muscles to help coordinate movement. Another cell type involved in the action and maintenance of synapses are called astrocytes, and these help to support the structure and function of the synapse. The synapse and astrocyte cells together are known as the tripartite synapse and it is thought that changes in the tripartite synapse may contribute to the early stages of neuron death in MND.

Professor Miles and the research team at the University of St Andrews are investigating the role of the tripartite synapse in motor neuron death, using state-of-the-art microscopes. These cutting-edge microscopes will enable the researchers to observe what changes occur to the tripartite synapse in MND in a very high level of detail. The project uses mouse models of MND (where the mouse has been given MND-like features) and cell models of MND (neurons made from skin samples of those with MND using stem cell technology) to see what disruptions may be happening to the tripartite synapse during the disease. As well as using mouse models of MND, the team will also look at post-mortem brain tissue from those who had MND to observe synapse changes in late stages of the disease.

What does this mean for people living with MND?

The results of this study could help to further current understanding into the changes that occur in the tripartite synapse at different stages of MND. Understanding more about the underlying mechanisms that drive the disease could lead to the identification of targets for the potential development of new treatments.


Want to find out more about the project and the researchers? Check out the resources below:


Saints Talk: Neurons, their Neighbours and Motor Neuron Disease by Professor Gareth Miles - YouTube

Project code: 863-791