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Neighboring Cells Can Save or Sabotage Neurons in ALS

Finding could lead to new treatments for neurodegenerative disease

THURSDAY, Oct. 2, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Good neighbors can be an important source of help when you're having trouble.

The same seems to be true when it comes to nerve cells and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

A multi-center American study found that in mouse models of ALS, the nerve cells (neurons) involved in ALS can either be damaged or saved from degeneration by neighboring non-neuronal cells.

The scientists, led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, found that when neighboring non-neuronal cells contain a genetic mutation associated with ALS, they can cause damage in normal motor neurons. These are nerve cells that control voluntary movement.

The degeneration of motor neurons in people with ALS results in progressive loss of muscle control, paralysis and ultimately death.

But the study also found that when these neighboring non-neuronal are normal, they protect or rescue motor neurons from degeneration when the motor neurons themselves have the ALS mutation.

The study appears in the Oct. 3 issue of Science.

"In place of the Herculean task of replacing the huge, meter-long motor neurons damaged by ALS, it would be easier to replace some of the surrounding cells with normal cells. Based on our findings, this could potentially prevent the degeneration and death of motor neurons that would otherwise be targeted for premature death," senior author Don Cleveland, UCSD professor of medicine, says in a news release.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about ALS.

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, Oct. 2, 2003
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