A specific virus has been found in the spinal cords of victims of the neuromuscular disorder known as Lou Gehrig's disease, leading researchers to suggest the virus may play a role in bringing on the disease.
A team at Rockefeller University in Lyon, France, found that 15 of 17 deceased victims of the disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), showed evidence of the virus in the motor nerve cells of their spinal cords. The virus was found in only one of 29 people who died of other causes.
''Many researchers have suspected a viral link to ALS, but in this study we were able to identify a virus known for nerve damage in the exact areas of the nervous system that are affected by this disease,'' said Martina Berger, lead researcher with the team and now with the University of California, Irvine. The results were published in the current issue of the journal Neurology.
The virus that was found was similar to echovirus-7, which is known to cause meningitis and rare cases of encephalitis.
ALS gradually weakens the muscles of the body, generally leading to death from respiratory paralysis. About 4,600 Americans are diagnosed annually with the disorder, which is well known for striking Yankees baseball great Gehrig, who died from it in 1941. Current treatments relieve some symptoms but cannot reverse or control the disorder.
In the Neurology study, researchers reported that while they found a close correlation between the virus and ALS, they could not say there was a direct cause-and-effect connection. They speculated that the virus could be a byproduct of the disorder or could be one of a cascade of problems caused by something else and leading to ALS.
''We have detected the virus, but we still do not understand how it affects the disease. That is what we are trying to do now,'' said Berger.
If researchers find a viral cause for ALS, then drugs might be developed that could prevent or control the disease.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.