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Office of Neuroscience Research > WUSTL Neuroscience News > ALS, rare dementia share genetic link

ALS, rare dementia share genetic link



From the WashU Newsroom...

Nearly half of all patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neuromuscular disorder, develop cognitive problems that affect memory and thinking. Why a disease that primarily affects movement also disrupts thinking has been unclear. But now, an international team of researchers has identified genetic links between ALS and frontotemporal dementia, a rare disorder marked by deterioration in behavior and personality, language disturbances and poor impulse control.

ALS initially damages neurons in the spinal cord while frontotemporal dementia mainly affects neurons in the brain. But the newly identified genetic connections between the two disorders may explain why they share some of the same features. Further, the links suggest that some drugs developed to treat ALS also may work against frontotemporal dementia and vice versa.

The new findings are published April 9 in the journal JAMA Neurology.

“Although there was clinical evidence that frontotemporal dementia and ALS may be connected, we didn’t fully understand the genetic connection,” said the study’s first author, Celeste M. Karch,  assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Identifying these genes connected to both disorders is important because, potentially, the shared genetic risk may point to common pathways that could be targeted therapeutically, raising the possibility that we might be able to treat the two devastating diseases with a single strategy.”

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