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Toxic Factor Linked to ALS Neuron Death

Toxic Factor Linked to ALS Neuron Death

NEW YORK, April 25 -- Glial cells -- long thought to be passive onlookers as motor neurons die in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- are actually major players, according to two research groups.

In companion papers published online in Nature Neuroscience, scientists at Columbia here and at Harvard reported that in ALS glial cells can secrete a toxic factor that selectively kills motor neurons.

The findings hold the promise of earlier diagnosis of the disorder -- also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease -- and may also open the door to possible therapeutic approaches, the researchers said.

"It was previously thought that astrocytes (the most abundant form of glial cell) were merely spectators watching their neighboring motor neurons die," said Serge Przedborski, M.D., Ph.D., of Columbia.

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