What Does Calcium Have To Do With ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a motor neuron disease that affects around nearly 22,600 Americans at any one time. Due to degeneration of motor neurons, muscle weakness is the main symptom of the disease. Motion in muscles is lost, spasms may occur, speech is affected, and eventually the respiratory system gives out. Usually with a late onset of somewhere between 55 and 65, those diagnosed with ALS have an average lifespan of 3-5 years after diagnosis. While the cause of ALS remains somewhat a mystery, it is known that there is a hereditary factor, with the disease known to run in families. Calcium has recently been found to play an important role in ALS.

The article our class focused on this week is titled “Calcium-dependent protein folding in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.” Protein misfolding in cells can lead to neurodegeneration. Calcium levels regulate folding proteins which are responsible for correct protein folding. Calcium homeostasis is disturbed in those with ALS and this causes higher levels of misfolded proteins. It is clear that disruption in calcium homeostasis is a problem, but researchers are still not positive that misfolded proteins are leading to neurodegeneration. Much research still needs to be done in this area before finding the cause or the cure for ALS.

The interesting thing about ALS is that it doesn’t affect cognitive abilities nearly as much as physical abilities. Our class had a very interesting discussion about the difference between declining physically but not mentally, versus declining more mentally than physically. This is such a difficult question that I don’t think anyone has a simple answer to. Would you rather have your body physically disabled and not be able to speak well and know what’s going on the whole time? Or would you rather lose it mentally before you can watch your body basically fall apart? Not that anyone can choose the outcome of this, it sparks interesting discussion.

In the end, this article did not come up with a cure for ALS, nor is there really anything we can do in our daily lives to prevent the disease. Of course eating healthy and getting exercise can never hurt. There is still a lot of research to be done in terms of ALS. The research presented in this article is leading researchers in a good direction and hopefully one day we will know much more on ALS and can help those who suffer.