Microphysiological 3D model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) from human iPS-derived muscle cells and optogenetic motor neurons

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Science Advances  10 Oct 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 10, eaat5847
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5847


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease involving loss of motor neurons (MNs) and muscle atrophy, still has no effective treatment, despite much research effort. To provide a platform for testing drug candidates and investigating the pathogenesis of ALS, we developed an ALS-on-a-chip technology (i.e., an ALS motor unit) using three-dimensional skeletal muscle bundles along with induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)–derived and light-sensitive channelrhodopsin-2–induced MN spheroids from a patient with sporadic ALS. Each tissue was cultured in a different compartment of a microfluidic device. Axon outgrowth formed neuromuscular junctions on the muscle fiber bundles. Light was used to activate muscle contraction, which was measured on the basis of pillar deflections. Compared to a non-ALS motor unit, the ALS motor unit generated fewer muscle contractions, there was MN degradation, and apoptosis increased in the muscle. Furthermore, the muscle contractions were recovered by single treatments and cotreatment with rapamycin (a mechanistic target of rapamycin inhibitor) and bosutinib (an Src/c-Abl inhibitor). This recovery was associated with up-regulation of autophagy and degradation of TAR DNA binding protein–43 in the MNs. Moreover, administering the drugs via an endothelial cell barrier decreased the expression of P-glycoprotein (an efflux pump that transports bosutinib) in the endothelial cells, indicating that rapamycin and bosutinib cotreatment has considerable potential for ALS treatment. This ALS-on-a-chip and optogenetics technology could help to elucidate the pathogenesis of ALS and to screen for drug candidates.

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