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Major ALS breakthrough
Date:8/21/2011

CHICAGO --- The underlying disease process of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS and Lou Gehrig's disease), a fatal neurodegenerative disease that paralyzes its victims, has long eluded scientists and prevented development of effective therapies. Scientists weren't even sure all its forms actually converged into a common disease process.

But a new Northwestern Medicine study for the first time has identified a common cause of all forms of ALS.

The basis of the disorder is a broken down protein recycling system in the neurons of the spinal cord and the brain. Optimal functioning of the neurons relies on efficient recycling of the protein building blocks in the cells. In ALS, that recycling system is broken. The cell can't repair or maintain itself and becomes severely damaged.

The discovery by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine researchers, published in the journal Nature, provides a common target for drug therapy and shows that all types of ALS are, indeed, tributaries, pouring into a common river of cellular incompetence.

"This opens up a whole new field for finding an effective treatment for ALS," said senior author Teepu Siddique, M.D., the Les Turner ALS Foundation/Herbert C. Wenske Professor of the Davee Department of Neurology and Clinical Neurosciences at Northwestern's Feinberg School and a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "We can now test for drugs that would regulate this protein pathway or optimize it, so it functions as it should in a normal state."

The discovery of the breakdown in protein recycling may also have a wider role in other neurodegenerative diseases, specifically the dementias. These include Alzheimer's disease and frontotemporal dementia as well as Parkinson's disease, all of which are characterized by aggregations of proteins, Siddique said. The removal of damaged or misfolded proteins is critical for optimal cell functioning, he noted.

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Contact: Marla Paul
Marla-Paul@northwestern.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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