INTRODUCTION: Increasing evidence implicates the role of the cell types surrounding motor neurons, such as interneurons and glial cells, in non-cell autonomous neurodegeneration of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). C-boutons, the large cholinergic synapses that innervate spinal α-motor neurons to control their excitability, are progressively lost from motor neurons in both human ALS and mutant Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1)-ALS mice. Neuregulin-1 (NRG1), a trophic factor implicated in neural development, transmission, and synaptic plasticity, has been reported to localize in the synapse of C-boutons. However, the roles of NRG1 in maintenance of motor neuron health and activity, as well as the functional consequences of its alteration in motor neuron disease, are not fully understood.
RESULTS: NRG1 was localized to the post-synaptic face of C-boutons and its expression was significantly lost in SOD1-ALS mice and human ALS patients. Losses of NRG1 expression and C-boutons occurred almost contemporaneously in SOD1-ALS mice. In addition, expressions of ErbB3 and ErbB4, receptors for NRG1, were reduced in the motor neurons of SOD1-ALS mice. Furthermore, viral-mediated delivery of type III-NRG1 to the spinal cord restored the number of C-boutons and extended the survival time of SOD1-ALS mice.
CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that maintenance of NRG1-ErbB4/3 axis by supplementation of NRG1 confers neuroprotection in motor neuron disease, partly through the maintenance of C-boutons of spinal motor neurons.
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