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Chitotriosidase: shucking the role of microglia in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  1. Henrik Zetterberg1,2,3,4
  1. 1 Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Mölndal, Sweden
  2. 2 Clinical Neurochemistry Laboratory, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Mölndal, Sweden
  3. 3 Department of Molecular Neuroscience, UCL Institute of Neurology, London, UK
  4. 4 UK Dementia Research Institute at UCL, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Henrik Zetterberg, Clinical Neurochemistry Laboratory, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Mölndal S-431 80, Sweden; henrik.zetterberg{at}

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Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) chitotriosidase concentration reflects microglial activation in the spinal cord of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Chitin is a long-chain insoluble carbohydrate polymer that is one of the most abundant organic materials in the biosphere, second only to cellulose.1 It occurs as a key structural molecule in the exoskeleton of invertebrates and cell walls of fungi. It builds up the shells of oysters and clams. Its durable properties are the subject of intense study in biotechnology and materials science. There has been a long-standing assumption that chitin plays no role in vertebrate biology, but this is starting to change; expression of chitin in vertebrate tissues has been verified, and potential biological functions of the polymer in higher organisms are just being unravelled.1

Chitinases constitute a widely expressed family of hydrolases that cleave chitins. Insects produce chitinases to facilitate moulting. Micro-organisms produce them to digest nutrients. The function of chitinases in vertebrates remains unclear, but potentially they play a role in the innate immune …

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  • Contributors HZ wrote the commentary.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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