(MEMPHIS, Tenn. August 28, 2013) Researchers have tied mutations in a gene that causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative disorders to the toxic buildup of certain proteins and related molecules in cells, including neurons. The research, published recently in the scientific journal Cell, offers a new approach for developing treatments against these devastating diseases.
Scientists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the University of Colorado, Boulder, led the work.
The findings provide the first evidence that a gene named VCP plays a role in the break-up and clearance of protein and RNA molecules that accumulate in temporary structures called RNA granules. RNAs perform a variety of vital cell functions, including protein production. RNA granules support proper functioning of RNA.
In ALS and related degenerative diseases, the process of assembling and clearing RNA granules is impaired. The proteins and RNAs associated with the granules often build up in nerve cells of patients. This study shows how mutations in VCP might contribute to that process and neurodegenerative disease.
"The results go a long way to explaining the process that links a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS, frontotemporal dementia and related diseases of the brain, muscle and bone known as multisystem proteinopathies," said the study's co-corresponding author, J. Paul Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology. Roy Parker, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), is the other corresponding author.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is diagnosed in about 5,600 Americans annually and is associated with progressive deterioration of nerve cells in the brain and spine that govern movement, including breathing. There is no effective treatment, and deat
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St. Jude Children's Research Hospital