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Early signs of motoneuron vulnerability in a disease model system: Characterization of transverse slice cultures of spinal cord isolated from embryonic ALS mice.

Neurobiology Sector and Istituto Nazionale di Fisica della Materia Unit, International School for Advanced Studies, via Beirut 2-4, 34014 Trieste, Italy.
Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 3.33). 02/2006; 138(4):1179-94. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.12.009
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Mutations in the SOD1 gene are associated with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The mechanisms by which these mutations lead to cell loss within the spinal cord ventral horns are unknown. In the present report we used the G93A transgenic mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to develop and characterize an in vitro tool for the investigation of subtle alterations of spinal tissue prior to frank neuronal degeneration. To this aim, we developed organotypic slice cultures from wild type and G93A embryonic spinal cords. We combined immunocytochemistry and electron microscopy techniques to compare wild type and G93A spinal cord tissues after 14 days of growth under standard in vitro conditions. By SMI32 and choline acetyl transferase immunostaining, the distribution and morphology of motoneurons were compared in the two culture groups. Wild type and mutant cultures displayed no differences in the analyzed parameters as well as in the number of motoneurons. Similar results were observed when glial fibrillary acidic protein and myelin basic protein-positive cells were examined. Cell types within the G93A slice underwent maturation and slices could be maintained in culture for at least 3 weeks when prepared from embryos. Electron microscopy investigation confirmed the absence of early signs of mitochondria vacuolization or protein aggregate formation in G93A ventral horns. However, a significantly different ratio between inhibitory and excitatory synapses was present in G93A cultures, when compared with wild type ones, suggesting the expression of subtle synaptic dysfunction in G93A cultured tissue. When compared with controls, G93A motoneurons exhibited increased vulnerability to AMPA glutamate receptor-mediated excitotoxic stress prior to clear disease appearance. This in vitro disease model may thus represent a valuable tool to test early mechanisms contributing to motoneuron degeneration and potential therapeutic molecular interventions.

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