Skip to content

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Search for ALS Gene Narrows

Font Size
A
A
A

WebMD Health News

Oct. 3, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Scientists may be one important step closer to pinpointing a genetic glitch responsible for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- the incapacitating neurodegenerative disease first brought into the public eye by beloved Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig and more recently described in the best-selling biography Tuesdays with Morrie.

"In some people with this disease, we've identified a region of chromosome 9 that contains a gene that is probably causing their illness," says Betsy A. Hosler, PhD, research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "We don't know yet what gene it is, but we've reduced the area in which we're looking from the whole genome to this particular section of this particular chromosome."

Hosler, lead author of an ALS study appearing in the Oct. 4 Journal of the American Medical Association, discussed her findings here today at the 19th Annual Science Reporters Conference.

Each ALS case is described as either sporadic -- the victim knows of no other instances in his or her family -- or as familial -- where the individual can identify another family member with the disease. "In 5% of all cases, individuals also develop symptoms of a particular type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia," Hosler says.

In earlier work, the team found a connection between a region of chromosome 9 and certain cases of familial ALS. When the team focused only on these cases, "it was very striking to us how the linkage is to families that also have dementia, but not those that don't have dementia," she says.

The hope, she says, "is that by studying this region further and identifying the particular gene causing [the problems], and then studying the biology of that gene," we can understand the disease process and why neurons are dying in these patients."

ALS usually strikes in early to middle adulthood, Hosler says. Beyond a certain age, it is unlikely that an unaffected individual will develop the disease. So to identify patterns of genetic mutation indicative of ALS, the team compared the chromosomes of affected individuals with those of both affected and older, unaffected relatives.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
 
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
 
senior man
Article
boy hits soccer ball with head
Slideshow
 
Graphic of active brain
Article
Vaccine and needle
VIDEO
 
brain illustration stroke
Slideshow
human brain
Article
 
most common stroke symptoms
Article
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix
Quiz