Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a devastating motoneuron (Mn) disease without effective cure currently available. Death of MNs in ALS is preceded by failure of neuromuscular junctions and axonal retraction. Neuregulin 1 (NRG1) is a neurotrophic factor highly expressed in MNs and neuromuscular junctions that support axonal and neuromuscular development and maintenance. NRG1 and its ErbB receptors are involved in ALS. Reduced NRG1 expression has been found in ALS patients and in the ALS SOD1G93A mouse model; however, the expression of the isoforms of NRG1 and its receptors is still controversial. Due to the reduced levels of NRG1 type III (NRG1-III) in the spinal cord of ALS patients, we used gene therapy based on intrathecal administration of adeno-associated virus to overexpress NRG1-III in SOD1G93A mice. The mice were evaluated from 9 to 16 weeks of age by electrophysiology and rotarod tests. At 16 weeks, samples were harvested for histological and molecular analyses. Our results indicate that overexpression of NRG1-III is able to preserve neuromuscular function of the hindlimbs, improve locomotor performance, increase the number of surviving MNs, and reduce glial reactivity in the treated female SOD1G93A mice. Furthermore, the NRG1-III/ErbB4 axis appears to regulate MN excitability by modulating the chloride transporter KCC2 and reduces the expression of the MN vulnerability marker MMP-9. However, NRG1-III did not have a significant effect on male mice, indicating relevant sex differences. These findings indicate that increasing NRG1-III at the spinal cord is a promising approach for promoting MN protection and functional improvement in ALS.
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- ErbB receptor
- motoneuron disease
- motor system