Spinal Cord Cells and ALS

A previously overlooked group of cells may be contributing to a wide range of disorders, according to research from the University of California, San Francisco.

The star-shaped cells, known as astrocytes, might be a factor in illnesses such as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), autism and schizophrenia.

The finding was published in the journal Nature.

Using a mouse model, the researchers found that a form of astrocyte in the spinal cord contains a protein needed for survival of the nerve circuitry that controls reflexive movements. That discovery is the first indication that different kinds of astrocytes support different locations in the central nervous system.

The team also investigated the role of a protein called Sema3a. That protein is produced by astrocytes that are close to motor neurons. When the production of Sema3A is blocked the motor neurons didn’t form normal connections, and half of them died.

The team said that the research indicated that there might be hundreds of varieties of astrocytes that control different functions in different locations.

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