THURSDAY, Jan. 22, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A genetic link between Lou Gehrig's disease and a similar disease in dogs has been identified by U.S. researchers, who said their finding could help lead to therapies for both humans and canines.
Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the central and peripheral nervous systems. It causes progressive muscle atrophy and weakness, resulting in paralysis and death. There is no cure. A similar disease in dogs is called degenerative myelopathy (DM).
A genetic mutation that causes ALS in humans is the same one that causes DM in dogs, according to researchers from the University of Missouri, in Columbia, Mo., and the Broad Institute, in Cambridge, Mass. This means that dogs can be used to help test treatments for ALS, according to a news release from the university.
The research was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Dogs with DM are likely to provide scientists with a more reliable animal model for ALS," Joan Coates, a veterinary neurologist and associate professor of veterinary medicine and surgery at Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine, said in the news release. "Also, this discovery will pave the way for DNA tests that will aid dog breeders in avoiding DM in the future."
To this point, ALS research has relied heavily on rodents genetically modified to express the mutation in the gene SOD1, which causes the disease. But the SOD1 mutation occurs naturally in dogs with DM, which means they offer a more accurate model of ALS in humans.
"Compared with the rodent model for ALS, dogs with DM are more similar to people in size, structure and complexity of their nervous systems, and duration of the disease," Gary Johnson, associate professor of veterinary pathobiology at Missouri, said in the news release. "The results from clinical trials conducted with DM-affected dogs may better predict the efficacies of therapeutic interventions for treating ALS in humans."
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about ALS.