Degenerative neural diseases
Masliah, Eliezer Departments of Neuroscience and Pathology, University of California San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, California.
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Disorders characterized by the gradual and progressive loss of nerve cells. Degenerative neural diseases, or neurodegenerative diseases (see illustration), are pathological conditions that result in the progressive degeneration or death of neurons (nerve cells). These disorders comprise a wide range of neurological diseases characterized by loss of synaptic connections among neurons, neuronal dropout, astrogliosis [proliferation of astrocytes (neuroglial cells) within the brain], and abnormal accumulation of neuronal proteins inside neurons or in the extracellular space. Alzheimer's disease is among the most common neurodegenerative disorders and the leading cause of dementia in the elderly. Other common neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Huntington's disease, are characterized by motor function abnormalities. The number of people with degenerative neural diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, is increasing rapidly as life expectancy in industrialized countries continues to rise. Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people afflicted will reach 14 million for Alzheimer's disease and 4 million for Parkinson's disease by the year 2050, which would be an unmanageable burden for the patients as well as for society. See also: Aging; Alzheimer's disease; Brain; Dementia; Huntington's disease; Motor systems; Nerve; Nervous system (vertebrate); Nervous system disorders; Neuron; Parkinson's disease
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