Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease characterized by selective motoneuron loss in brain and spinal cord. Mutations in the superoxide dismutase (SOD) 1 gene account for 10-20% of familial ALS patients. The ALS-mouse model over-expressing a mutant human SOD1 (G93A) gene closely mimics human ALS disease. The cause for the selective death of motoneurons is still unclear, but among several pathomechanisms discussed, loss of neurotrophic factors is one possibility. Basic fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF-2) plays a prominent role in the motor system. In order to evaluate a role of FGF-2 in ALS pathogenesis, double mouse mutants transgenic for the human SOD1 mutation and lacking the endogenous FGF-2 gene were generated. Both heterozygous and homozygous FGF-2 deficient mutant SOD1 mice showed a significant delay in disease onset and less impaired motor performance in comparison to mutant SOD1 mice with normal FGF-2 levels. Survival of the double mouse mutants was significantly prolonged for two weeks. Motoneuron numbers were significantly higher in the double mutants and astrocytosis was diminished at disease endstage. While one would initially have expected that FGF-2 deficiency deteriorates the phenotype of mutant SOD1 animals, our results revealed a protective effect of FGF-2 reduction. In search of the underlying mechanisms, we could show up-regulation of other neurotrophic factors with proven protective effects in the ALS mouse model, ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) and glial derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in muscle and spinal cord tissue of double mutant animals.
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