Two studies published in Nature Neuroscience may show new ways to treat the degenerative nerve disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which slowly paralyzes its victims until they die.
Both studies showed that a specific type of nerve cells, called astrocytes, turn toxic when they carry a mutated gene called SOD1, which has previously been linked with ALS. When SOD1 is mutated in astrocytes, one of the nourishing proteins apparently turns toxic. When the researchers grew astrocytes with mutated SOD1, they killed the neighboring mouse motor neuron cells.
This research may lead to new methods of detecting ALS earlier, and eventually to options for arresting the progress of the disease by neutralizing the protein that causes the cells to die.