Motor neurone disease

What is motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease (MND) is a fatal, rapidly progressing neurological disease. It attacks the nerves that control movement (motor neurones) so that muscles no longer work.

Motor neurones control important muscle activity such as gripping, walking, speaking, swallowing and breathing. As these nerves are attacked, messages gradually stop reaching muscles. This initially leads to weakness and wasting and then, eventually, severe paralysis and breathing difficulties.

Mental abilities and senses are not usually affected and therefore patients generally remain aware of their deteriorating physical condition.

There is no cure for MND. It kills a third of people within a year and more than half within two years of diagnosis.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the most common type of MND and is the umbrella term used in the USA for all forms of the disease.

Who is affected?

Six people are diagnosed with MND every day in the UK.

It can affect any adult at any age. Most people are diagnosed over the age of 50. Men are at higher risk than women.

A small number of sufferers (up to 10%) have a family history of MND but the disease is not thought to be familial in most cases.

How we help

Motor neurone disease is a devastating condition. It causes unrelenting loss of muscle function day after day. Research has given us a greater understanding of the disease and its mechanisms, but there is still no effective treatment. Much more needs to be done.

Since 1999 we have been funding the Graeme Watts Laboratory at the UCL Institute of Neurology, under the leadership of Professor Linda Greensmith. Linda founded the Lab using funds left to Brain Research UK by the family of Graeme Watts, who died of MND. The Lab has grown enormously, with a team of around 20 people now working on MND and related diseases. You can read about the work of the Lab here.

Brain Research UK PhD student Martha McLaughlin is working with Linda to take forward the development of optogenetics, a technique that holds promise for the restoration of muscle function in patients with degenerative diseases such as MND. You can read about Martha's project here.