Mutations in copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD1) are associated with a familial form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and their expression in transgenic mice produces an ALS-like syndrome. Here we show that, during the course of the disease, the spinal cord of transgenic mice expressing mutant SOD1 (mSOD1) is the site not only of a progressive loss of motor neurons, but also of a dramatic gliosis characterized by reactive astrocytes and activated microglial cells. These changes are absent from the spinal cord of age-matched transgenic mice expressing normal SOD1 and of wild-type mice. We also demonstrate that, during the course of the disease, the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) increases. In both early symptomatic and end-stage transgenic mSOD1 mice, numerous cells with the appearance of glial cells are strongly iNOS-immunoreactive. In addition, iNOS mRNA level and catalytic activity are increased significantly in the spinal cord of these transgenic mSOD1 mice. None of these alterations are seen in the cerebellum of these animals, a region unaffected by mSOD1. Similarly, no up-regulation of iNOS is detected in the spinal cord of age-matched transgenic mice expressing normal SOD1 or of wild-type mice. The time course of the spinal cord gliosis and iNOS up-regulation parallels that of motor neuronal loss in transgenic mSOD1 mice. Neuronal nitric oxide synthase expression is only seen in neurons in the spinal cord of transgenic mSOD1 mice, regardless of the stage of the disease, and of age-matched transgenic mice expressing normal SOD1 and wild-type mice. Collectively, these data suggest that the observed alterations do not initiate the death of motor neurons, but may contribute to the propagation of the neurodegenerative process. Furthermore, the up-regulation of iNOS, which in turn may stimulate the production of nitric oxide, provides further support to the presumed deleterious role of nitric oxide in the pathogenesis of ALS. This observation also suggests that iNOS may represent a valuable target for the development of new therapeutic avenues for ALS.