Towards Better Understanding of Etiological Mechanisms at the Neuromuscular Junction

Abstract: The neuromuscular junction (NMJ) serves as a model for understanding the mechanisms that determine communication between neurons and their target cells. Disorders of the NMJ can be either autoimmune or genetic (hereditary). The autoimmune disorder myasthenia gravis (MG) is caused by antibodies against the presynaptic nerve terminal or the postsynaptic muscle membrane, which make up the NMJ. The most common antibodies are directed against the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) or muscle specific tyrosine kinase (MuSK). An alternative to expand on preclinical in-vivo methods for studying mechanisms underlying diseases of neuromuscular transmission is to apply physiologic in-vitro models that would allow tissue-tissue as well as cell-cell interactions. A system that would allow cell-cell interactions in a biological fashion is the micro-electrode array (MEA) chip that allows co-culturing of motor neurons and muscle cells.The primary hypothesis is that the suggested MEA can be used in creating a reliable model for healthy and diseased NMJ, allowing for manipulations and treatment assays. The secondary hypothesis is that small non-coding RNA, so called microRNAs (miRNA) have a specific role in neuromuscular transmission and in MG.Study I demonstrated a method of long-term muscle cell culture on the MEA chips, which allows us to trace the development of muscle cells through the observation of their electrical activity at subcellular resolution. The maturation of skeletal muscle tissue was accompanied by a gradual increase in the amplitude and frequency of extracellular individual electrical spikes. The mature muscle tissue demonstrated the steady electrical activity with synchronized spike propagation in different directions across the chip.Study II showed a specific upregulated profile of miRNAs in the muscles of MuSK antibody seropositive MG mice. Transfection of these miRNAs, miR-1933 and miR-1930, promoted downregulation of several proteins and further confirmation with qPCR revealed a specific blocking of IMPA1 and MRPL27, which are involved in intracellular signal transduction and mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscles.Study III revealed no correlation between the morphology of skeletal muscle cells and their electrical activity at an early developmental stage. However, the application of recombinant rat agrin increased the number of AChRs clusters in the culture of skeletal muscle and promoted a higher degree of spontaneous activity.