Motor neurone disease is tragic and incurable. It withers away the connections between motor neurones – nerve cells running from the brain to the muscles – and the muscles themselves. Over time, sufferers are gradually paralysed, losing the ability to move, speak or even breathe. Yet the disease runs different courses in individual people, affecting some nerves but not others or progressing faster or more slowly. The image on the left shows nerves (green) connecting up correctly with abdominal muscles (red) in healthy mice, while the missed connections on the right are seen in the muscles of a mouse with a version of motor neurone disease. By studying these animals in detail, researchers have found that nerve cells with low levels of a molecule called alpha-synuclein will degrade faster than those with high levels. The finding could lead to new therapies to slow or even stop the disease’s distressing and fatal progression.
Written by Kat Arney
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