In a nine-month study of six people with ALS conducted at the Eleanor & Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, investigators found that high-dose, orally administered coenzyme Q10 might be beneficial in preserving motor units in the disease. Because of the positive trends, researchers are planning a larger study.
A motor unit consists of a motor neuron (muscle-controlling nerve cell) and the muscle cells it controls. Coenzyme Q10 plays a role in the mitochondria, the energy-producing units of cells. It also functions as an antioxidant, a chemical that can help detoxify potentially damaging free radicals.
A person with ALS usually loses about 50 percent of existing motor units over a six-month period, said Clifton Gooch, a neurophysiologist who heads the Electromyography Laboratory at Columbia-Presbyterian. Motor unit numbers are estimated by measurements taken from surface electrodes placed on the skin, noted Sheila Hayes, a physical therapist who was part of the study team.
Hayes said that of the six people who remained throughout the study, three showed minimal gains in their motor unit numbers, and the other three had losses of 16 percent, 23 percent and 38 percent, respectively.
"Because of the small number of patients, one cannot draw firm conclusions from these results, but there were positive trends," Hayes said. She noted that people tolerated well the high doses used in the study — 600 milligrams a day. No symptoms or laboratory value changes were attributed to the drug.
The study data were presented at the 11th International Symposium on ALS/Motor Neuron Disease in Arhus, Denmark, in December. Funding was provided by Solgar Laboratories, which manufactures coQ10.
"This encourages us to organize a larger, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of high-dose coQ10 in patients with ALS," said neurologist and study team member Salvatore DiMauro, an MDA research grantee. Planning for such a study is under way.