By Jacob Ahlstrom | Posted - Jul 8th, 2020





New Cells Discovered to be Involved in ALS

Brown University researchers identified specific cells (glial cells) within the nervous system cells as a potential source of decay in diseases like ALS. The nervous system facilitates a complex electrical communication network within the body. It consists of the brain and spinal cord and is an intricate network of neurons (electricity conducting cells) and another type of cell called glial cells. Glial cells do not conduct electricity but instead they provide structural support and help the neurons. 

“This discovery will serve as a springboard to addressing fundamental questions and developing assays to speed the discovery of therapeutics intended to preserve and restore the normal function of neuronal circuits,”

- Gregorio Valdez, PhD, GLF Translational Associate Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry

 The aid of glial cells is crucial for neurons to communicate. The place where neurons communicate is called the synapse. Signals released from the synapse send chemical messages to its neighboring cell. This type of communication allows for a large network of interconnected cells. If something is to go wrong in the synapse the whole network can be thrown off.  

 It is understood that fixing synaptic communication can potentially help treat neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. The problem was that researchers did not know which glial cells were involved in this healing process. Recently a team of researchers at Brown University uncovered the mystery. They identified a specific type of glial cell called a presynaptic Schwann cell as the cell in charge of synaptic development, function, maintenance, and repair.  

This new discovery may launch a new wave of treatments that could have a more direct target than ever before.  

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Jacob Ahlstrom
About the Author

Jacob Ahlstrom - Jacob is a Neuroscience undergraduate at Brigham Young University. Jacob's interest in researching and writing about ALS is fueled by his hope to make the process easier for everyone else. Over the last year he has worked alongside Seth Christensen to find ways to educate and connect ALS patients.