Just like flicking a light switch genes can be switched on and off by a process known as methylation. This is a useful thing in the body because there are genes that need to be switched on in liver cells that are not required in brain cells and vice versa. However, this switching on and off of genes can go wrong. Until now the possibility that genes had been turned off or on incorrectly by methylation had not been tested in humans. Work coming out of Roger Pamphlett's laboratory at the University of Sydney led by Julia Morahan did just that. They examined methylation in normal brain tissue across the whole genome. The study revealed a number of differences between sporadic MND patients and the normal population. However, the researchers did not find a pattern common to all MND patients. Although specific genes were not commonly altered in their methylation, the researchers indentified groups of genes that were more likely to be switched off or on inappropriately. These include genes involved in calcium homeostasis, excitotoxicity and oxidative stress, all of which have been implicated in MND.
Source: International MND research update -December 2009, Dr Justin Yerbury for MNDRIA