Ottem Secures NIH Research Grant

Erich Ottem (Biology) received a $368,200 grant to support research that may provide a novel target for understanding and treating pathology associated with neuromuscular diseases such as ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and other disorders of muscles and motor neurons. The funding is provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health.


Ottem’s project focuses on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that causes certain types of nerve cells to continue to grow and survive. It is present in both the central and peripheral nervous systems and synthesized by muscle cells.  In the nervous system, BDNF promotes the growth of sensory and motor neurons. Ottem is exploring how diminished or absent muscle production of BDNF may trigger processes that lead to many of the complications and pathology associated with neuromuscular diseases.


“The proximal cause of many neuromuscular diseases is difficult to trace, pinpoint and stop,” said Ottem. “The latest approach is to identify and alleviate the secondary pathology. It’s similar to dominos. We’re not targeting the initial action of the first domino being pushed over to trigger disease onset. We’re addressing the secondary pathology that results following that action—how it fans out and leads to widespread neuromuscular dysfunction.


“Results of these studies may establish the importance of muscle-synthesized neurotrophins as a critical factor in the health and maintenance of the entire motor unit. They may also provide a novel target for treatment of neuromuscular disorders. If we can track down the root of the secondary pathology caused by disrupted muscle production of BDNF, it could ultimately lead to BDNF replacement—specifically to muscle fibers—as a possible treatment. Our research is applicable to many classes of neuromuscular diseases.”


Three graduate students and eight undergraduates are assisting Ottem in the research. Pictured are (from left) grad students Emily Pomeroy and Leah Schuman at the cryostat, which allows them to thinly slice muscle or spinal cord tissue and mount it on slides to analyze under a microscope.



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Updated: October 28, 2011

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