Heterogeneity of Neuroinflammatory Responses in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Challenge or an Opportunity?

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Oct 25;21(21):7923. doi: 10.3390/ijms21217923.


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a complex pathology: (i) the neurodegeneration is chronic and progressive; it starts focally in specific central nervous system (CNS) areas and spreads to different districts; (ii) multiple cell types further than motor neurons (i.e., glial/immune system cells) are actively involved in the disease; (iii) both neurosupportive and neurotoxic neuroinflammatory responses were identified. Microglia cells (a key player of neuroinflammation in the CNS) attracted great interest as potential target cell population that could be modulated to counteract disease progression, at least in preclinical ALS models. However, the heterogeneous/multifaceted microglia cell responses occurring in different CNS districts during the disease represent a hurdle for clinical translation of single-drug therapies. To address this issue, over the past ten years, several studies attempted to dissect the complexity of microglia responses in ALS. In this review, we shall summarize these results highlighting how the heterogeneous signature displayed by ALS microglia reflects not only the extent of neuronal demise in different regions of the CNS, but also variable engagement in the attempts to cope with the neuronal damage. We shall discuss novel avenues opened by the advent of single-cell and spatial transcriptomics technologies, underlining the potential for discovery of novel therapeutic targets, as well as more specific diagnostic/prognostic not-invasive markers of neuroinflammation.

Keywords: PET; microglia; neuroinflammation; single-cell RNAseq; spatial transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / genetics*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / metabolism
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Genetic Heterogeneity*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / genetics*
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Transcriptome / genetics*


  • Biomarkers