A Human-Based Functional NMJ System for Personalized ALS Modeling and Drug Testing

Adv Ther (Weinh). 2020 Nov;3(11):2000133. doi: 10.1002/adtp.202000133. Epub 2020 Aug 11.


Loss of the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is an early and critical hallmark in all forms of ALS. The study design was to develop a functional NMJ disease model by integrating motoneurons (MNs) differentiated from multiple ALS-patients' induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and primary human muscle into a chambered system. NMJ functionality was tested by recording myotube contractions while stimulating MNs by field electrodes and a set of clinically relevant parameters were defined to characterize the NMJ function. Three ALS lines were analyzed, 2 with SOD1 mutations and 1 with a FUS mutation. The ALS-MNs reproduced pathological phenotypes, including increased axonal varicosities, reduced axonal branching and elongation and increased excitability. These MNs formed functional NMJs with wild type muscle, but with significant deficits in NMJ quantity, fidelity and fatigue index. Furthermore, treatment with the Deana protocol was found to correct the NMJ deficits in all the ALS mutant lines tested. Quantitative analysis also revealed the variations inherent in each mutant lines. This functional NMJ system provides a platform for the study of both fALS and sALS and has the capability of being adapted into subtype-specific or patient-specific models for ALS etiological investigation and patient stratification for drug testing.

Keywords: ALS; functional model; human-based; neuromuscular junction; patient-specific.