Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New clues about how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) develops

Date:
March 31, 2013
Source:
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Summary:
Scientists say they have evidence from animal studies that a type of central nervous system cell other than motor neurons plays a fundamental role in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal degenerative disease. The discovery holds promise, they say, for identifying new targets for interrupting the disease’s progress.

Johns Hopkins scientists say they have evidence from animal studies that a type of central nervous system cell other than motor neurons plays a fundamental role in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal degenerative disease. The discovery holds promise, they say, for identifying new targets for interrupting the disease's progress.

Related Articles


In a study described online in Nature Neuroscience, the researchers found that, in mice bred with a gene mutation that causes human ALS, dramatic changes occurred in oligodendrocytes -- cells that create insulation for the nerves of the central nervous system -- long before the first physical symptoms of the disease appeared. Oligodendrocytes located near motor neurons -- cells that govern movement -- died off at very high rates, and new ones regenerated in their place were inferior and unhealthy.

The researchers also found, to their surprise, that suppressing an ALS-causing gene in oligodendrocytes of mice bred with the disease -- while still allowing the gene to remain in the motor neurons -- profoundly delayed the onset of ALS. It also prolonged survival of these mice by more than three months, a long time in the life span of a mouse. These observations suggest that oligodendrocytes play a very significant role in the early stage of the disease.

"The abnormalities in oligodendrocytes appear to be having a negative impact on the survival of motor neurons," says Dwight E. Bergles, Ph.D., a co-author and a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "The motor neurons seem to be dependent on healthy oligodendrocytes for survival, something we didn't appreciate before."

"These findings teach us that cells we never thought had a role in ALS not only are involved but also clearly contribute to the onset of the disease," says co-author Jeffrey D. Rothstein, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins and director of the Johns Hopkins Medicine Brain Science Institute.

Scientists have long believed that oligodendrocytes functioned only as structural elements of the central nervous system. They wrap around nerves, making up the myelin sheath that provides the "insulation" that allows nerve signals to be transmitted rapidly and efficiently. However, Rothstein and others recently discovered that oligodendrocytes also deliver essential nutrients to neurons, and that most neurons need this support to survive.

The Johns Hopkins team of Bergles and Rothstein published a paper in 2010 that described in mice with ALS an unexpected massive proliferation of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells in the spinal cord's motor neurons, and that these progenitors were being mobilized to make new oligodendrocytes. The researchers believed that these cells were multiplying because of an injury to oligodendrocytes, but they weren't sure what was happening. Using a genetic method of tracking the fate of oligodendrocytes, in the new study, the researchers found that cells present in young mice with ALS were dying off at an increasing rate in concert with advancing disease. Moreover, the development of the newly formed oligodendrocytes was stalled and they were not able to provide motor neurons with a needed source of cell nutrients.

To determine whether the changes to the oligodendrocytes were just a side effect of the death of motor neurons, the scientists used a poison to kill motor neurons in the ALS mice and found no response from the progenitors, suggesting, says Rothstein, that it is the mutant ALS gene that is damaging oligodendrocytes directly.

Meanwhile, in separate experiments, the researchers found similar changes in samples of tissues from the brains of 35 people who died of ALS. Rothstein says it may be possible to see those changes early on in the disease and use MRI technology to follow progression.

"If our research is confirmed, perhaps we can start looking at ALS patients in a different way, looking for damage to oligodendrocytes as a marker for disease progression," Rothstein says. "This could not only lead to new treatment targets but also help us to monitor whether the treatments we offer are actually working."

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, named for the Yankee baseball great who died from it, affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. The nerve cells waste away or die, and can no longer send messages to muscles, eventually leading to muscle weakening, twitching and an inability to move the arms, legs and body. Onset is typically around age 50 and death often occurs within three to five years of diagnosis. Some 10 percent of cases are hereditary.

There is no cure for ALS and there is only one FDA-approved drug treatment, which has just a small effect in slowing disease progression and increasing survival.

Even though myelin loss has not previously been thought to occur in the gray matter, a region in the brain where neurons process information, the researchers in the new study found in ALS patients a significant loss of myelin in one of every three samples of human tissue taken from the brain's gray matter, suggesting that the oligodendrocytes were abnormal. It isn't clear if the oligodendrocytes that form this myelin in the gray matter play a different role than in white matter -- the region in the brain where signals are relayed.

The findings further suggest that clues to the treatment of other diseases long believed to be focused in the brain's gray matter -- such as Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease -- may be informed by studies of diseases of the white matter, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). Bergles says ALS and MS researchers never really thought their diseases had much in common before.

Oligodendrocytes have been under intense scrutiny in MS, Bergles says. In MS, the disease over time can transform from a remitting-relapsing form -- in which myelin is attacked but then is regenerated when existing progenitors create new oligodendrocytes to re-form myelin -- to a more chronic stage in which oligodendrocytes are no longer regenerated. MS researchers are working to identify new ways to induce the creation of new oligodendrocytes and improve their survival. "It's possible that we may be able to dovetail with some of the same therapeutics to slow the progression of ALS," Bergles says.

Other Johns Hopkins researchers involved in the study include Shin H. Kang, Ph.D.; Ying Li, Ph.D.; Ileana Lorenzini, M.S.; and Lyle Ostrow, M.D., Ph.D.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NS 051509), the ALS Association, P2ALS, the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins and the Brain Science Institute.


Story Source:

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


Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins Medicine. "New clues about how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) develops." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130331165048.htm>.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2013, March 31). New clues about how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) develops. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130331165048.htm
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "New clues about how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) develops." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130331165048.htm (accessed November 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, November 22, 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
Raw: Paralyzed Marine Walks With Robotic Braces

Raw: Paralyzed Marine Walks With Robotic Braces

AP (Nov. 21, 2014) Marine Corps officials say a special operations officer left paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in Afghanistan walked using robotic leg braces in a ceremony to award him a Bronze Star. (Nov. 21) Video provided by AP
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

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