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A gene mutated in one form of motor neuron disease was possibly a point of vulnerability in nerve damage that thousands suffered from drinking contaminated “ginger jake” in 1930. (Source: U-M photo)
A team of University of Michigan scientists have discovered mutations in one key gene (neuropathy target esterase, or NTE) that cause a previously unknown type of inherited motor neuron disease. The discovery paves the way for better diagnosis and research on treatments. The scientists found the mutations caused changes in a protein already known to be involved when people develop neurologic disorders as a result of exposure to toxic organophosphates—chemicals commonly used in solvents and insecticides and also as “nerve gas” agents.
In the 1930s, an estimated 50,000 people in the US became lame or otherwise neurologically-affected by neurotoxic organophosphates when they drank a contaminated batch of “ginger jake”—an alcohol-containing potion that was legal during Prohibition. More recently, there have been incidents in Fiji, India, and Africa when accidental consumption of oils containing neurotoxic organophosphates caused death or nerve damage for tens of thousands of people.
This article was published in Drug Discovery & Development magazine: Vol. 11, No. 4, April, 2008, pp. 29.
Filed Under: Drug Discovery