Source: Medical Express

(LOS ANGELES, Ca.) — Often described as the final frontier of biology, the nervous system is a complex network comprised of the brain, spinal cord and the nerves that run through the body. Published today by scientists led by Bennett Novitch, Ph.D. at the Eli & Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, new research using embryonic stem cells enhances the study of this intricate and perplexing system. Such discoveries are vital to the understanding and treatment of devastating disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and spinal muscular atrophy, which are caused by the loss or degeneration of motor neurons – the nerves that control muscle movement.

The research, which provides a more efficient way to study the functions of motor neuron diseases through the power of stem cells, was published online today by the journal Nature Communications.

Voluntary muscle movement—such as breathing, speaking, walking and fine motor skills—is controlled by several different subtypes of motor neurons. Originating in the spinal cord, motor neurons carry signals from the brain to muscles throughout the body. Loss of motor neuron function causes several neurological disorders for which treatment has been hindered by the inability to produce enough of the different kinds of motor neurons to accurately model and potentially treat neurodegenerative diseases, as well as spinal cord injuries. Specifically, efforts to produce ‘limb-innervating’ motor neurons in the lab were only about 3 percent effective. This special subtype of motor neuron supplies nerves to the arms and legs and is most acutely affected by motor neuron diseases such as ALS.

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