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Researchers discover new clues about how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis develops
Date:3/31/2013

ine 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 patie
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Contact: Stephanie Desmon
sdesmon1@jhmi.edu
410-955-8665
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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