Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) could be caused by a retrovirus, study suggests

Date:
March 2, 2011
Source:
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Summary:
A retrovirus that inserted itself into the human genome thousands of years ago may be responsible for some cases of the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gherig's disease. The finding may eventually give researchers a new way to attack this universally fatal condition.

A retrovirus that inserted itself into the human genome thousands of years ago may be responsible for some cases of the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gherig's disease. The finding, made by Johns Hopkins scientists, may eventually give researchers a new way to attack this universally fatal condition.

Related Articles


While roughly 20 percent of ALS cases appear to have a genetic cause, the vast majority of cases appear to arise sporadically, with no known trigger. Research groups searching for a cause of this so-called sporadic form had previously spotted a protein known as reverse transcriptase, a product of retroviruses such as HIV, in ALS patients' serum samples, suggesting that a retrovirus might play a role in the disease. However, these groups weren't able to trace this reverse transcriptase to a specific retrovirus, leaving some scientists in doubt whether retroviruses are involved in ALS.

Seeking to verify whether a culprit retrovirus indeed exists, Avindra Nath, M.D., a professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and colleagues examined brain samples from 62 people: 28 who died from ALS, 12 who died from chronic, systemic diseases such as cancer, 10 who died from accidental causes and 12 who had another neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson's disease, at the time of their deaths. Using a technique known as polymerase chain reaction, the researchers searched for messenger RNA (mRNA) transcripts from retroviruses, a chemical signature that retroviruses were active in these patients.

In samples from the ALS and chronic disease patients, the search turned up mRNA transcripts that came from human endogenous retrovirus K (HERV-K). This retrovirus is one of thousands that became a part of the human genome after infecting our ancestors long ago. Nowadays, these retroviruses are no longer contagious, but are instead passed along through inheritance in part of the genome that scientists consider "junk" DNA.

When Nath and his colleagues took a closer look at the mRNA, they saw that the transcripts seemed to originate from different parts of the genome in the samples from ALS and systemic disease patients. The transcripts also came from different tissues in the brain. While patients with ALS tended to have HERV-K transcripts present in areas surrounding the motor cortex of the brain -- the area affected by the disease -- the other patients' transcripts were spread more diffusely through the brain.

Although the researchers express caution, the findings, reported in the January Annals of Neurology, suggest that HERV-K might be the ALS retrovirus that researchers have been looking for.

"This paper doesn't establish causation beyond the level of doubt, but it does provide some promising links between HERV-K and ALS," Nath says. "We've never found a putative retrovirus for this disease before, so this opens up a whole new area."

He and his colleagues plan to study whether HERV-K might cause neuronal damage, a step closer to linking this retrovirus to ALS. They also plan to study what factors may cause HERV-K to reactivate in some people and lead to ALS symptoms. Researchers might eventually be able to fight ALS, Nath adds, using antiretroviral drugs specific to HERV-K


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Renιe Douville, Jiankai Liu, Jeffrey Rothstein, Avindra Nath. Identification of active loci of a human endogenous retrovirus in neurons of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Annals of Neurology, 2011; 69 (1): 141 DOI: 10.1002/ana.22149

Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) could be caused by a retrovirus, study suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110302121911.htm>.
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. (2011, March 2). Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) could be caused by a retrovirus, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110302121911.htm
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) could be caused by a retrovirus, study suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110302121911.htm (accessed November 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, November 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) — Having children has always been a frightening prospect in Sierra Leone, the world's most dangerous place to give birth, but Ebola has presented an alarming new threat for expectant mothers. Duration: 00:37 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola: Life Without School in Guinea

Ebola: Life Without School in Guinea

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) — Following the closure of schools and universities in Guinea because of the Ebola virus, students look for temporary work or gather in makeshift classrooms to catch up on their syllabus. Duration: 02:14 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins