Fact: Although there have been recent breakthroughs in understanding ALS, scientists still do not know the cause
One important step came in 1993 when scientists discovered that mutations in the gene that produces the SOD1 enzyme were associated with some cases of familial ALS.
This enzyme is a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules produced by cells during normal metabolism. If not neutralized, free radicals can accumulate and cause random damage to the DNA and proteins within cells.
Although it is not yet clear how the SOD1 gene mutation leads to motor neuron degeneration, researchers have theorized that an accumulation of free radicals may result from the faulty functioning of this gene. This theory has been supported in some animal studies.
Studies also have focused on the role of glutamate in motor neuron degeneration. Glutamate is one of the chemical messengers or neurotransmitters in the brain. Scientists have found that, compared to healthy people, ALS patients have higher levels of glutamate in the serum and spinal fluid. Lab studies have shown that neurons begin to die off when they are exposed over long periods to excessive amounts of glutamate.
Now, scientists are trying to understand what mechanisms lead to a buildup of unneeded glutamate in the spinal fluid and how this imbalance could contribute to the development of ALS.
Autoimmune responses—which occur when the body’s immune system attacks normal cells—have been suggested as one possible cause for motor neuron degeneration in ALS.
Some scientists theorize that antibodies may directly or indirectly impair the function of motor neurons, interfering with the transmission of signals between the brain and muscles.
In searching for the cause of ALS, researchers have also studied environmental factors such as exposure to toxic or infectious agents. Other research has examined the possible role of dietary deficiency or trauma. However, as of yet, there is insufficient evidence to implicate these factors as causes of ALS.
Future research may show that many factors, including a genetic predisposition, are involved in the development of ALS.
The RASCALS Foundation is doing everything it can year-round to spread the message about Lou Gehrig’s disease. In reality, this is everybody’s disease—and there is so much more to do.
In addition to raising awareness, we also work to raise much-needed financial resources for the ALS community.
You can make a secure online donation via PayPal here, or mail your gift here:
P.O. Box 31834
St. Louis, MO 63131
How is your money used?
On your behalf, RASCALS has made annual contributions to ALS research centers so they can keep searching for answers and treatments.
The Neuromuscular and Clinical Neurophysiology Services Group of St. Louis University was a 2013 recipient.
HIGHER EDUCATION SCHOLARSHIPS
The financial burdens of ALS are as horrific as the disease itself. So each year we present college scholarships to members of families affected by ALS.
The scholarship awards are based in part on applicants’ original essays that address “How ALS Has Influenced My Life.”
RASCALS GIVES 100%
The Robert A. Stehlin Campaign for ALS (R.A.S.C.A.L.S.) is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) charity.
You can be sure that 100% of every dollar that you donate goes to building awareness, treatment research and development, plus ALS family assistance.
This is ALS Awareness Month. Please make it a point to tell someone about ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Thank you for all you do.