Familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (FALS) has been linked in some families to dominant mutations of the SOD1 gene encoding Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase (Cu,ZnSOD). We have used a transgenic model of FALS based on expression of mutant human Cu,ZnSOD to explore the etiology and therapy of the genetic disease. Expression of mutant, but not wild-type, human Cu,ZnSOD in mice places the brain and spinal cord under oxidative stress. This causes depletion of vitamin E, rather than the typical age-dependent increase in vitamin E content as occurs in nontransgenic mice and in mice expressing wild-type human Cu,ZnSOD. Dietary supplementation with vitamin E delays onset of clinical disease and slows progression in the transgenic model but does not prolong survival. In contrast, two putative inhibitors of the glutamatergic system, riluzole and gabapentin, prolong survival. However, riluzole did not delay disease onset. Thus, there was clear separation of effects on onset, progression, and survival by the three therapeutics tested. This suggests the hypothesis that oxidative damage produced by the expression of mutant Cu,ZnSOD causes slow or weak excitotoxicity that can be inhibited in part by alerting glutamate release or biosynthesis presynaptically.