Physical exercise is a risk factor for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Convergent evidence from Mendelian randomisation, transcriptomics and risk genotypes

Thomas H. Julian, Nicholas Glascow, A. Dylan Fisher Barry, Tobias Moll, Calum Harvey, Yann C. Klimentidis, Michelle Newell, Sai Zhang, Michael P. Snyder, Johnathan Cooper-Knock, Pamela J. Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a universally fatal neurodegenerative disease. ALS is determined by gene-environment interactions and improved understanding of these interactions may lead to effective personalised medicine. The role of physical exercise in the development of ALS is currently controversial. Methods: First, we dissected the exercise-ALS relationship in a series of two-sample Mendelian randomisation (MR) experiments. Next we tested for enrichment of ALS genetic risk within exercise-associated transcriptome changes. Finally, we applied a validated physical activity questionnaire in a small cohort of genetically selected ALS patients. Findings: We present MR evidence supporting a causal relationship between genetic liability to frequent and strenuous leisure-time exercise and ALS using a liberal instrument (multiplicative random effects IVW, p=0.01). Transcriptomic analysis revealed that genes with altered expression in response to acute exercise are enriched with known ALS risk genes (permutation test, p=0.013) including C9ORF72, and with ALS-associated rare variants of uncertain significance. Questionnaire evidence revealed that age of onset is inversely proportional to historical physical activity for C9ORF72-ALS (Cox proportional hazards model, Wald test p=0.007, likelihood ratio test p=0.01, concordance=74%) but not for non-C9ORF72-ALS. Variability in average physical activity was lower in C9ORF72-ALS compared to both non-C9ORF72-ALS (F-test, p=0.002) and neurologically normal controls (F-test, p=0.049) which is consistent with a homogeneous effect of physical activity in all C9ORF72-ALS patients. Interpretation: Our MR approach suggests a positive causal relationship between ALS and physical exercise. Exercise is likely to cause motor neuron injury only in patients with a risk-genotype. Consistent with this we have shown that ALS risk genes are activated in response to exercise. In particular, we propose that G4C2-repeat expansion of C9ORF72 predisposes to exercise-induced ALS. Funding: We acknowledge support from the Wellcome Trust (JCK, 216596/Z/19/Z), NIHR (PJS, NF-SI-0617-10077; IS-BRC-1215-20017) and NIH (MPS, CEGS 5P50HG00773504, 1P50HL083800, 1R01HL101388, 1R01-HL122939, S10OD025212, P30DK116074, and UM1HG009442).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103397
JournalEBioMedicine
Volume68
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • C9ORF72
  • Mendelian randomisation
  • Physical exercise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

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