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ALS shares common threads with diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

While each disease is unique in its symptoms and ultimate causes, researchers increasingly believe that all neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s share some important features. The presence of these common features means that an increased understanding of one disease is likely to have major benefits in understanding, treating and ultimately curing each of the others.

The features of ALS that most, and perhaps all, neurodegenerative diseases share include:

  • Neurons highly sensitive to stress, which could include exposure to environmental toxins.
  • Misfolded proteins and reduced protein recycling. Proteins must fold into their proper three-dimensional form to function correctly. Misfolded proteins are normally recycled. In neurodegenerative diseases, protein misfolding increases, and recycling decreases, leading to accumulation of potentially toxic proteins.
  • Toxic proteins spread from one neuron to another. Researchers increasingly see evidence that once neurodegeneration begins in a small group of cells, it can spread from cell to cell, spreading the problem of misfolded proteins described above.
  • Neuroinflammation. An inflammatory response triggered by the immune system is believed to contribute to the worsening of neurodegenerative diseases.

The existence of these common features means that gaining a better understanding of the ALS disease process is likely to shed light on important aspects of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as well as other neurodegenerative diseases. It also means that discovering effective therapies for ALS is likely to bring the possibility of effective therapies that much closer for people with those diseases as well.

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