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D. Understanding Lou Gehrig's Disease, or ALS

Narrator: This is Science Today. Lou Gehrig's Disease, or ALS, is a disease in which muscles just stop working because the nerves responsible for sending signals to the muscles to contract, die. Don Cleveland, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, describes the process of this progressive and almost always fatal disease.

Cleveland: The circuitry for triggering a muscle to contract begins in the brain as a neuron, an upper neuron has a process which comes down the spinal cord, interacts with a second, lower motor neuron and that goes out traversing through a long course throughout the body to the target muscles. And whenever either of those links dies, then you are unable to move the muscles.

Narrator: Cleveland co-led a study that revealed if surrounding non-neuronal cells did not have a mutation associated with ALS, they could protect or rescue affected motor neurons.

Cleveland: What we've learned here is that you don't just have to focus on the neuron in order to be able to prevent the catastrophe.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.