Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Neurology, Program in Neuroscience

First Thesis Advisor

Robert H. Brown Jr.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, axon degeneration, axon transport, neuromuscular disease imaging, biomarker


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a lethal, progressive neurodegenerative disorder that selectively affects both upper and lower motor neurons, leading to muscle weakness, paralysis and death. Despite recent advances in the identification of genes associated with ALS, the quest for a sensitive biomarker for rapid and accurate diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment response monitoring has not been fulfilled. In this thesis, I report a method of quantifying the integrity of motor neurons in vivo using imaging to record uptake and retrograde transport of intramuscularly injected tetanus toxin fragment C (TTC) into spinal motor neurons. This method tracks and profiles progression of disease (transgenic SOD1G93A and PFN1 ALS mice) and detects subclinical perturbations in net transport, as analyzed in C9orf72 transgenic mice. It also defines a progressive reduction in net transport with aging. To address whether our technique enables drug development, I evaluated therapeutic benefits of (1) gene editing and (2) mutant gene silencing (with RNAi targeting SOD1) in SOD1G93A transgenic mice by characterizing their net axonal transport profiles. I constructed a computational model to evaluate key molecular processes affected in net axonal transport in ALS mouse model. The model allows prediction of key parameters affected in a C9ORF72 BAC transgenic mouse line. Prior immunization with tetanus toxoid does not preclude use of this assay, and it can be used repetitively in the same subject. This assay of net axonal transport offers broad clinical application as a diagnostic tool for motor neuron diseases and as a biomarker for rapid detection of benefit from therapies for transport dysfunction in a range of motor neuron diseases.



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