Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: mechanisms and therapeutics in the epigenomic era

Nat Rev Neurol. 2015 May;11(5):266-79. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2015.57. Epub 2015 Apr 21.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease of the motor neurons, which results in weakness and atrophy of voluntary skeletal muscles. Treatments do not modify the disease trajectory effectively, and only modestly improve survival. A complex interaction between genes, environmental exposure and impaired molecular pathways contributes to pathology in patients with ALS. Epigenetic mechanisms control the hereditary and reversible regulation of gene expression without altering the basic genetic code. Aberrant epigenetic patterns-including abnormal microRNA (miRNA) biogenesis and function, DNA modifications, histone remodeling, and RNA editing-are acquired throughout life and are influenced by environmental factors. Thus, understanding the molecular processes that lead to epigenetic dysregulation in patients with ALS might facilitate the discovery of novel therapeutic targets and biomarkers that could reduce diagnostic delay. These achievements could prove crucial for successful disease modification in patients with ALS. We review the latest findings regarding the role of miRNA modifications and other epigenetic mechanisms in ALS, and discuss their potential as therapeutic targets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / diagnosis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / genetics*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / therapy
  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly / genetics
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Epigenomics
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Histones / genetics
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / antagonists & inhibitors
  • MicroRNAs / physiology*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / therapeutic use
  • RNA Editing / genetics


  • Histones
  • MicroRNAs
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense