Is ALS in Your Genes?

Genes might play a bigger role in the onset of Lou Gehrig’s disease than previously thought.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai and Washington University in St. Louis have discovered that people with defects in two or more ALS genes get the disease as early as 10 years before those with a single gene mutation.

"These findings shed new light on the genetic origins of ALS, especially in patients who had no prior family history of the disease," said Dr. Robert H. Baloh, director of neuromuscular medicine and the ALS Program at Cedars-Sinai.

Only 10 percent of ALS cases are generally thought to be tied to genetics. This study, however, examined the DNA of people with no family history of the disease and found new and rare ALS gene mutations. Baloh says that these new mutations do not necessarily lead to ALS, but when mutations occur in two or more of these genes, the likelihood of ALS increases. What’s more, the disease can set in a whole 10 years earlier in those with two or more genetic mutations.

"This tells us that more research is needed to identify other genes that influence ALS risk, and that ultimately, individuals may have more than one gene contributing toward developing disease," says Dr. Matthew B. Harms, assistant professor of neurology at Washington University.

About the Author

Elisha Bury is the editor of The Mobility Project. She can be reached at