Possible Factors Related to ALS
GlutamateStudies have also focused on the role of glutamate in motor neuron degeneration. Glutamate is one of the chemical messengers or neurotransmitters in the brain.
Scientists have found that, compared to healthy people, ALS patients have higher levels of glutamate in the serum and spinal fluid. Laboratory studies have demonstrated that neurons begin to die off when they are exposed over long periods to excessive amounts of glutamate. Now, scientists are trying to understand what mechanisms lead to a buildup of unneeded glutamate in the spinal fluid and how this imbalance could contribute to the development of ALS.
Autoimmune responses -- which occur when the body's immune system attacks normal cells -- have been suggested as one possible cause for ALS. Some scientists theorize that antibodies may directly or indirectly impair the function of motor neurons, interfering with the transmission of signals between the brain and muscles.
In searching for possible ALS causes, researchers have also studied environmental factors, such as exposure to toxic or infectious agents, and examined the possible role of dietary deficiency or trauma. However, as of yet, there is insufficient evidence to implicate these factors as possible ALS causes.
Future research may show that there are many factors involved in the development of ALS.