Combined excitotoxic–oxidative stress and the concept of non-cell autonomous pathology of ALS: Insights into motoneuron axonopathy and astrogliosis Academic Article uri icon


  • Non-cell autonomous pathology is widely accepted to determine the demise of motoneurons (MNs) in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with astrocytes, GFAP and glutamate transport suggested to play roles in reactive astrogliosis. Previously we described actions of excitotoxicity and oxidative stress to produce differential injury of motoneurons and astrocytes, respectively, and our goal here was to define patterns of MN injury and astrogliosis during a combined excitotoxic-oxidative injury since such a paradigm more closely models disease pathology. Using an in vitro neuronal-glial culture of embryonic mouse spinal cord, we demonstrate that glutamate transport activity was maintained or increased initially, despite a loss of cellular viability, induced by exposure to combinations of excitotoxic [(S)-5-fluorowillardiine (FW)] and oxidative [3-morpholinosydnonimine (SIN-1)] insults over 48 h. Under these conditions, injury was slow in time course and apoptotic-like as shown by the patterns of annexin V and propidium iodide (PI) labelling. Immunocytochemistry for SMI-32 revealed that injury produced time- and insult-dependent reductions in the size of MN arbours, axonal dieback and appreciable neuritic blebbing. These changes were preceded by early hypertrophy of GFAP-positive astrocytes, and followed by more delayed stellation and eventual gliotoxicity. Alterations to EAAT2 immunolabelling were similar to those found for GFAP being initially maintained and then eventually reduced at 48 h. Image analysis of immunocytochemical data confirmed the differential time-dependent changes found with SMI-32, GFAP and EAAT2. Axonopathy and blebbing of MNs was frequently associated with areas of low GFAP immunoreactivity. The exact profile of changes to MNs and astrocytes was context-dependent and sensitive to subtle changes in the mix of excitotoxic-oxidative insults. Overall our findings are consistent with the concepts that the nature, extent and time-course of astrogliosis are insult-dependent, and that discrete pro-survival and destructive components of astrogliosis are likely to determine the precise profile of MN injury in non-cell autonomous pathology of ALS.


  • O'Shea, Ross
  • Wallis, Nicole
  • Zagami, Chrissandra J
  • Beart, Philip M
  • O’Shea, Ross D

publication date

  • September 2012