Mechanisms of L-serine neuroprotection in vitro include ER proteostasis regulation

R. A. Dunlop, J. Powell, G. J. Guillemin, P. A. Cox*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (L-BMAA) is a neurotoxic non-protein amino acid produced by cyanobacteria. Recently, chronic dietary exposure to L-BMAA was shown to trigger neuropathology in nonhuman primates consistent with Guamanian ALS/PDC, a paralytic disease that afflicts Chamorro villagers who consume traditional food items contaminated with L-BMAA. However, the addition of the naturally occurring amino acid l-serine to the diet of the nonhuman primates resulted in a significant reduction in ALS/PDC neuropathology. L-serine is a dietary amino acid that plays a crucial role in central nervous system development, neuronal signaling, and synaptic plasticity and has been shown to impart neuroprotection from L-BMAA-induced neurotoxicity both in vitro and in vivo. We have previously shown that L-serine prevents the formation of autofluorescent aggregates and death by apoptosis in human cell lines and primary cells. These effects are likely imparted by L-serine blocking incorporation of L-BMAA into proteins hence preventing proteotoxic stress. However, there are likely other mechanisms for L-serine-mediated neuroprotection. Here, we explore the molecular mechanisms of L-serine neuroprotection using a human unfolded protein response real-time PCR array with genes from the ER stress and UPR pathways, and western blotting. We report that L-serine caused the differential expression of many of the same genes as L-BMAA, even though concentrations of L-serine in the culture medium were ten times lower than that of L-BMAA. We propose that L-serine may be functioning as a small proteostasis regulator, in effect altering the cells to quickly respond to a possible oxidative insult, thus favoring a return to homeostasis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-132
Number of pages10
JournalNeurotoxicity Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • ER stress
  • L-BMAA
  • l-serine
  • neuroprotection
  • unfolded protein response

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