It is called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: SLA. It is the neuropathology that struck the great cosmologist Stephen Hawking and which still continues to claim victims all over the world. The problem lies in the motor neurons, responsible for movements, whose quantity decreases progressively. At first some muscle spasm appears, then limb immobility and finally respiratory paralysis. It is therefore on these nerve cells and on their vulnerability that the research is focusing, in particular that conducted by Emanuela Zuccaro, researcher of the VIMM of the group of Maria Pennuto.

Her project, “MOVER” wins the 2020 call of the AriSLA Foundation (Italian Research Foundation for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), issued to select the best Italian research projects in the field of SLA. It will cover a period of 12 months.

Emanuela Zuccaro (lab Pennuto)

Emanuela Zuccaro (lab Pennuto)

The goal of Zuccaro, a brilliant scientist and mother of two children, is to investigate the different levels of vulnerability found during the degenerative process, among motor neurons. To do this, reveals the researcher, it will be necessary to “study the different susceptibility to motor neuron degeneration in SLA“. It will therefore be necessary to proceed through “the identification of the gene expression profile – that is, the process of converting genetic information into macromolecules (typically proteins) – of specific neuronal groups“, she concludes.

The techniques used can only be state-of-the-art since they will have to be able to analyze the nucleus of individual motor neurons. As neuroscience teaches, studying individual nerve cells in detail is very complicated due to their small size.

The scientist intends to understand what are the molecular factors that positively or negatively affect the course of the degenerative pathology. Through experimental models, motor neurons belonging to different stages of the disease will be isolated and analyzed, analyzing their molecular mechanisms in action.