Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is an adult-onset neurological disorder of multiple etiologies that affects primarily motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Abnormal accumulations of neurofilaments (NFs) in motor neurons and a down-regulation of mRNA for the NF light subunit (NF-L) are associated with ALS, but it remains unclear to what extent these NF perturbations contribute to human disease. Transgenic mouse studies demonstrated that overexpression of normal and mutant NF proteins can sometimes provoke a motor neuronopathy characterized by the presence of abnormal NF accumulations resembling those found in ALS. Remarkably, the motor neuronopathy in transgenic mice overexpressing human NF heavy (NF-H) subunits was rescued by the co-expression of a human NF-L transgene at levels that restored a correct stoichiometry of NF-L to NF-H subunits. Transgenic approaches have also been used to investigate the role of NFs in disease caused by Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1) mutations, which is responsible for approximately 2% cases of ALS. Studies with transgenic mice expressing low levels of a fusion NF-H/lacZ protein, in which NFs are withheld from the axonal compartment, suggested that axonal NFs are not toxic intermediates required for SOD1-mediated disease. On the contrary, overexpression of human NF-H proteins was found to confer an effective protection against mutant SOD1 toxicity in transgenic mice, a phenomenon that may be due to the ability of NF proteins to chelate calcium. In conclusion, transgenic studies showed that disorganized NFs can sometimes have noxious effects resulting in neuronopathy. However, in the context of motor neuron disease caused by mutant SOD1, there is emerging evidence that NF proteins rather play a protective role.
Useful keywords (using NLM MeSH Indexing)
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/genetics*
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/pathology