Motor system genomics

Genetic and transcriptomics analysis of motor system disorders

We are studying biological fluid samples from motor neuron disease (MND) patients, family members of the patients with MND, disease control (patients with other motor system disorders and neurological conditions) and healthy controls to identify markers that could be used to aid diagnosis. We hope that particular changes in fluid composition may help us to understand how MND arises, how to diagnose the condition at an earlier stage and to understand responses to treatment.

We currently study two fluids and skin cells, detailed below.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)

Cerebrospinal fluid is the liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. We are studying changes in the composition to help understand the biochemical changes happening in MND.


Blood has the advantage of being an easily accessible fluid to examine. The aim of this project is to identify MND specific, blood-based biological 'fingerprints' that can be useful in diagnosis, prognosis prediction and disease monitoring.


The skin biopsy samples collected is for establishing cultured fibroblasts as an experimental model of disease. Skin samples are processed and the skin cells cultured in the lab to generate the fibroblasts.

UK Chief Investigator

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw

Research summary

Motor system disorders comprise of a variety of different disorders characterised by the inability of the cells in the nervous system to send signals to the muscles to control movement. These disorders include diseases where the motor neurones are degenerating, eg MND and hereditary spastic paraparesis (HSP), but similar clinical symptoms can also be caused by inflammatory or non-inflammatory neuropathies and structural defects in the spinal cord.

Clinical diagnosis of MND and HSP are through exclusion of other potential causes rather than a single test. The majority of cases of MND and HSP are usually sporadic with no family history of the disease. However, inheritance of the disease in a family can occur and the genetic basis of these cases is being elucidated, identifying mutations in causative genes not only in familial cases but also in apparently sporadic cases raising the probability that some mutations are not fully penetrant, ie carrying the mutation doesn't always mean you will get the disease.

There are still causative genes to be identified. Determining the genetic basis of diseases allows for questions to be raised.

The primary aim of this project is to determine how particular gene mutations cause a wide range of motor system disorders and to establish if expression of a set of genes can be used as a biomarker. We will collect blood, skin and CSF samples (patients, family members and healthy controls) to isolate DNA, RNA, proteins and metabolites and use the cells to establish cellular models to identify new genes, determine the mechanisms of disease, establish diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers.

Current status

Active – recruiting

Key dates

Actual opening date: 8 August 2012

Recruitment planned end date: 16 May 2025

Recruitment groups

Recruitment targets

The study aims to recruit up to 200 patients with motor system disorders, 100 patients with other neurological conditions (disease controls), 200 family members and 100 healthy controls per year for a duration of ten years. The maximum number of participants recruited into the study will be 6,000, minimum of 2,000.

Click here to see how many patients have been recruited into this study to date (external link to the NIHR public study search) 



Information about study sites

Contact details

Mbombe Kazoka, email: or phone: 0114 222 2258

Lee Tuddenham, email: or phone: 0114 222 2263

Inclusion / exclusion criteria

Inclusion criteria

All participants:

In addition to the general inclusion / exclusion criteria described above, the additional eligibility criteria apply:

Exclusion criteria

Potential participants will not be admitted to the study if they


Medical Research Council (MRC)


Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Study design

Cohort observational

Outcome measures

Blood, CSF, skin, and urine samples, and supporting clinical and genetic data from patients with motor system disorders, those with other neurological disorders, family members and healthy volunteers.

Participant information sheets

Information sheet – Patients (PDF, 786KB)

Information sheet – Family members and controls (PDF, 773KB)