BIO1025 Medical Topic Research Blog

Topic: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis by Ali Groskreutz

Word Analyses


a- (P): lack of

my/o (R): muscle

-troph (S): nourishment

-ic (S): pertaining to

pertaining to lack of muscle nourishment; lack of nerve stimulation of the muscle may cause the wasting away of its tissue


scler (R): hardening

-osis (S): condition

abnormal hardening of body tissue


dys- (P): difficult

-phagia (S): to eat, to swallow

difficulty in swallowing


spastic (R): convulsive

-ity (S): condition

the condition of increased muscular tone causing stiff and awkward movements


sial/o (CF): salivary

-rrhea (S): flow, discharge

excessive flow of saliva


Discovered in 1869, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Motor Neuron Disease, is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that affects the spinal cord and brain nerve cells (Ng, 2015). This is a gradual onset disease but attacks motor neurons aggressively compared to other neurodegenerative diseases. During the progression of ALS, the nerve cells stemming from the brain and spinal cord degenerate and waste away until they die. Thus the brain is unable to control the muscles in which the motor neurons have demised. Vast degeneration of motor neurons can lead to complete paralysis. Sclerosis, or scarring and hardening, occurs in the areas of demised neurons.

The initial involvement of anterior horn cells and corticomotor neurons and the location of the initial symptoms can distinguish ASL from similar diseases such as primary lateral sclerosis, primary muscular atrophy, and progressive bulbar palsy (Ng, 2015). ALS is recognizable by the appearance of communication deficits, weakness, decreased mobility, spasticity, dysphagia, pain and more symptoms varying in patients (Ng, 2015).

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Normal Nerve Cell and Muscle vs. ALS Nerve Cell and Muscle

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Motor Neurons Throughout the Body

This image shows the locations of motor neurons affected by ALS, including the upper motor neurons and lower motor neurons. Following the arrows shows some muscles that will be affected by the degeneration of it's motor neurons, such as the tongue, arm muscles and leg muscles.

More About ALS

There are two types of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. The most common type is sporadic ALS which accounts for about 90% of all ALS cases. Familial ALS is the second type and accounts for about 10% of ALS cases. Neurologically there is no difference between the two categories of ALS, the only difference is Familial ALS is inherited through genes.

Death of patients with ALS usually occurs two to four years after the disease has been diagnosed (Ng, 2015), and unfortunately, there is no cure. However, there are treatments and therapies that can slow the progression and lessen the symptoms of this fatal disease. For example, mechanical ventilation, used for those with significant respiratory muscles weakness, spasticity treatments such as stretching, and prescription and non-prescription medication, sialorrhea treatments such as suction and irradiating the salivary glands (Ng, 2015). Cell based therapies are also used and include the use of stem cells and replacement cells (Abdul Wahid, 2015).

Many epidemiologists have hypothesized of variety of causes of ALS, proposing the effects of heavy-metal toxins, and environmental and occupational exposures (Mitchell, 2007), although little is still known about the pathogenesis and overall epidemiology of ALS.

30,000 Americans are victims of ALS and over 5,600 are diagnoses every year (ALSA, 2015).

What is MND?

What is Motor Neuron Disease?

Image Credit

Video Credit

What is MND? by MND Australia