About 15-20% of patients with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) carry one of several missense mutations in the gene for Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1). We have previously reported on an animal model of this disease produced by the transgenic expression of a mutant form of human SOD1 containing a Gly93-->Ala amino acid substitution. Several lines of transgenic mice were produced, characterized by a differing tempo and severity of disease that generally correlated with the number of mutant gene copies that these lines expressed. We reported that mice expressing high copy numbers (18-25) developed a disease with a relatively short course and with a pathology mainly characterized by severe vacuolar degeneration of motor neurons and their process. Lewy-like bodies and swollen axons were also present. The exquisite localization to motor neurons was the feature that made the pathology in these overexpressors germane to the human disease. Severe vacuolar degeneration, however, was considered to be at variance with human ALS, in which similar changes have not been described. In the present study, we have made a temporal characterization of microscopic and immunohistochemical changes in a line of transgenic mice expressing lower copy numbers of the mutant gene. These mice, designated G5/G5, survive more than 400 days and present pathological changes which are virtually identical to those in the human disease. In fact, in these animals, anterior horn cell depletion, atrophy, astrocytosis, and the presence of numerous ubiquitinated Lewy-like bodies and axonal swellings are the main pathological features, while vacuolar pathology is minimal. This study underscores the importance of the level of expression of the mutant enzyme in the resulting clinical and pathological disease, and supports the value of this transgenic model as an excellent tool for investigating both pathogenesis of human ALS and possible therapeutic avenues.