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Motor neuron disease and toxic substances: Possible link?
Date:3/20/2008

uron disorders, possibly including ALS. Motor neuron disease affects five per 100,000 people.

The findings are an exciting first step in uncovering a possible link between the environment and motor neuron disease, says Shirley Rainier, a research assistant professor at the U-M Department of Neurology and the first author of the study. Why does one person in a family get it, and another doesnt"

Piecing together a puzzle

In the 1930s, an estimated 50,000 people in the U.S. became lame or otherwise neurologically affected by neurotoxic organophosphates when they drank a contaminated batch of ginger jake, an alcohol-containing potion that was legal during Prohibition.

Ginger jake suppliers substituted a lubricating oil for the oil usually used, castor bean oil, when castor bean prices went up. A 2003 article in the New Yorker detailed the sad results, which led bands like the Mississippi Sheiks to write songs about the ginger jake blues.

More recently, there have been incidents in Fiji, India and Africa when accidental consumption of oils containing neurotoxic organophosphates (instead of cooking oil) caused death or nerve damage for tens of thousands of people. Although scientists dont yet know the exact manner in which toxic organophosphate exposure leads to progressive and permanent nerve damage, they have learned that this process involves disturbance of an enzyme, NTE, contained within nerves.

Fink examined members of two families who had progressive weakness and spasticity (tightness) in their legs, as well as muscle atrophy in their hands, shins and feet. James Albers, M.D., Ph.D., a U-M professor of neurology and an expert in neuromuscular disorders, studied nerve and motor function. Rainier performed genetic studies and determined that the gene for the condition was on a region of chromosome 19.

Mark Leppert, Ph.D., co-chair of human genetics at the University of Utah, and his team perfor
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Contact: Anne Rueter
arueter@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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