DNA damage is primarily associated with cancer, but evidence increasingly shows it may play a role in motor neuron loss in ALS.
Modifications, alterations and breaks in the DNA of cells occur frequently throughout life, and are normally repaired before they can cause problems. But if the damage is too extensive and cannot be repaired, then the cell will normally die.
Motor neurons from ALS patients have been shown to have more DNA damage than motor neurons from healthy people, and this is consistently seen in patients with and without known genetic causes of the disease. DNA damage thus could be a cause of motor neuron death in some or all forms of ALS.
The Ferraiuolo lab is currently studying DNA damage in motor neurons from ALS patients, and also investigating whether this DNA damage is caused or worsened by other cells in the brain and spinal cord. If we can prevent the cause of the DNA damage, or somehow change the motor neuron response to it, then this could help us identify new potential treatments for ALS patients.