The role of lipids, key in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

  • According to a pilot study that has analysed the spinal cords of people with ALS

People suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have an altered composition of fats in their spinal cord cells. This has been confirmed by a pilot study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine of Lleida (IRBLleida) and the University of Lleida (UdL) and the Catalan Institute of Health Lleida to analyse the nuclear lipidome (the envelope of the cell site where genetic information is stored). The results, published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, support the usefulness of lipidomics applied to neurodegenerative diseases and the ageing process. The study has the participation of IDIBELL’s researchers: Mònica Povedano, Isidre Ferrer, Pol Andrés-Benito.

The study – led by Omar Ramírez-Núñez, Mariona Jové, Pascual Torres and Reinald Pamplona from the Metabolic Physiopathology group at IRBLleida and the Department of Experimental Medicine at the University of Lleida – has had the collaboration of the Catalan Institute of Health, the University Institute for Primary Health Care Research Foundation Jordi Gol and Gurina (IDIAPJGol-Primary Care Lleida), the Bellvitge University Hospital, the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), the University of Barcelona and the Institute of Neurosciences of the UB (UBNEuro) and CIBERNED (Centre for Biomedical Research Network on Neurodegenerative Diseases).

The pilot study has worked with samples from around thirty patients from the Arnau de Vilanova University Hospital (HUAV), the University Hospital of Santa Maria (HUSM) and the Hospital de Bellvitge. “We have seen how the production of a special type of fat, called ether-lipids, could be altered in ALS patients,” explains the researcher in charge and professor at the University of Lleida, Manel Portero. “We have observed a decrease in their concentration. We don’t know if by solving this problem we can help patients, but it is a new potential avenue of action to discover new targets for developing possible drugs,” he adds.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease characterised by progressive loss of movement, as it affects motor neurons in the brain, brainstem and spinal cord, which are the cells responsible for transmitting the order for voluntary movement from the brain to the muscles. The causes of this minority disease are unknown. “We have shown that within ALS-affected tissues there are changes in lipids that could be related to the speed of the disease or even its cause. We need to continue researching,” says Portero.

Lipidomics is dedicated to the study and characterisation of lipids (fats), molecules that store energy in the body, form the cell envelopes and play an important role in cell signalling. The lipidome or lipid profile of a cell indicates the composition and abundance of lipids in our organism. IRBLleida and the University of Lleida have a scientific-technical lipidomics service, which has developed and consolidated the Lipidomics Platform of Catalonia (PLICAT).

Following in the same line of research, a study published in the journal Brain Communications, led by Professor Manuel Portero-Otín, and with the research staff, Joaquim Sol, Mariona Jové and Victòria Ayala, from the UdL, the Catalan Institute of Health, the IRBLleida and the participation of IDIBELL researchers Mònica Povedano, Isidre Ferrer, Pol Andrés Benito. Hospital de Bellvitge, IDIBELL, the University of Oxford, King’s College London, the University of Barcelona and Columbia University also particpate in the work. The study shows that the lipidomic characteristics of plasma and cerebrospinal fluid of people with ALS correlate with the progression of the disease.

There are some lipids that, the higher their concentration in the cerebrospinal fluid, the faster the disease progresses,” explains Manel Portero. This finding will make it possible to use lipid profiles as classifiers of ALS.



The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).


Text adapted from IRB Lleida

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