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Toxin from Brain Cells Triggers Neuron Loss in Human ALS Model

Study in Human Cells May Improve Ability to Identify Useful Drug Targets

In most cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a toxin released by cells that normally nurture neurons in the brain and spinal cord can trigger loss of the nerve cells affected in the  disease, Columbia researchers reported today in the online edition of the journal Neuron.

The toxin is produced by star-shaped cells called astrocytes and kills nearby motor neurons. In ALS, the death of motor neurons causes a loss of control over muscles required for movement, breathing, and swallowing. Paralysis and death usually occur within 3 years of the appearance of first symptoms.

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