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Motor neuron disease (MND)

Motor neuron disease (MND)

Motor neuron disease is caused by loss of the nerve cells that transmit signals from the brain to the muscles.

Motor neuron disease (MND) describes a group of diseases that affect motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Motor neurons are cells that transmit electrical messages to tell your muscles what to do. MND gradually stops these messages reaching the muscles.

Types of MND

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - The most common form of MND in adults, known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’ in the USA. ALS causes muscle weakness, muscle stiffness and cramps. Later, it affects people’s movement, walking, speech, breathing and ability to swallow. Some people also experience changes to their thinking and behaviour. ALS affects everyone differently, and not all symptoms will affect everyone, or develop in the same order or at the same speed. The condition is life-shortening and currently there is no cure or effective treatment.

Other, less common types of MND include progressive bulbar palsy (PBP), progressive muscular atrophy (PMA) and primary lateral sclerosis (PLS).

The childhood form of MND is called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The Anne Rowling Clinic is not currently conducting research into SMA.


The causes of MND are not yet fully known, although many researchers worldwide are trying to find out.

There are likely to be many different causes of MND, including combinations of genetic ‘risk factors’ and environment or lifestyle ‘triggers’. While we now know some of the genes involved, we do not have conclusive evidence about the effect of any lifestyle factors.

Research links

MND research at the Anne Rowling Clinic is closely linked with the Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research. The Euan MacDonald Centre is based at the University of Edinburgh and is a not-for-profit, charitable network of over 200 researchers across Scotland. The Centre uses research to improve the lives of people living with MND and related conditions.

Euan MacDonald Centre website

Further information

The MND Association

MND Scotland

NHS Inform: motor neuron disease

Spinal Muscular Atrophy UK