September 8, 2006, Newsletter Issue #21: The Etiology Of ALS

Tip of the Week

Since the 1960s, there were several theories written about the etiology or possible causes for Lou Gehrig's disease. In 1875, Charcot put forth the possibility of the poliovirus being responsible for these symptoms. This was debated until 1907, when Wilson raised the theory of an environmental cause, such as lead poisoning causing ALS. Increased levels of aluminum, manganese, and mercury, and decreased levels of calcium and magnesium were also suspected. Since Wilson's first theory was made, it was discovered lead causes pseudo-ALS symptoms, which are reversible.

Even though it was believed the environment was the sole cause for ALS, instead it is now thought ALS might result from general causes, such as an altered immune system, dietary deficiency, toxicity, vascular disease, physical injury, and inflammatory conditions. Examples of other possible causes include antibodies manufactured against neurons, structural defects in the membranes of neurons, enzyme deficiencies, syphilis, prior surgery and malignancy. So trace metal toxicity is not the sole underlying cause for this disease.

In 1993, it was announced a link was discovered in one form of ALS. Scientists in North America were able to isolate a genetic mutation on chromosome 21, which causes 15 to 20 percent of familial ALS cases.

Afterwards in 1995, another possible cause was found. A glutamate transporter protein deficiency was discovered in the brain and spinal cord of some ALS patients.

Even though we now know ALS is a neurodegenerative disease, the main cause for the disease is unknown, many scientists believe the causes for ALS are multifactorial.

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