Mutant copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1)-overexpressing transgenic mice, a mouse model for familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), provides an excellent resource for developing novel therapies for ALS. Several observations suggest that mitochondria-dependent apoptotic signaling, including caspase-9 activation, may play an important role in mutant SOD1-related neurodegeneration. To elucidate the role of caspase-9 in ALS, we examined the effects of an inhibitor of X chromosome-linked inhibitor of apoptosis (XIAP), a mammalian inhibitor of caspase-3, -7 and -9, and p35, a baculoviral broad caspase inhibitor that does not inhibit caspase-9. When expressed in spinal motor neurons of mutant SOD1 mice using transgenic techniques, XIAP attenuated disease progression without delaying onset. In contrast, p35 delayed onset without slowing disease progression. Moreover, caspase-9 was activated in spinal motor neurons of human ALS subjects. These data strongly suggest that caspase-9 plays a crucial role in disease progression of ALS and constitutes a promising therapeutic target.
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