Transgenic mice with a G86R mutation in the mouse superoxide dismutase (SOD-1) gene, which corresponds to a mutation observed in familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), display progressive motor dysfunction leading to paralysis and premature death. In endstage SOD-1 transgenic mice, there is marked loss of spinal motor neurons and interneurons, accumulation of phosphorylated neurofilament inclusions, and reactive astrocytosis. The present study details the time course and ultrastructural appearance of these pathologic changes and correlates the timing of these events with the behavioral symptoms. There is no significant reduction in the number of total neurons, motor neurons, or interneurons in the ventral spinal cord of presymptomatic mice, as compared to age-matched control mice. In contrast, there is a significant reduction in the number of total neurons (-23.5%), motor neurons (-28.9%), and interneurons (-23.5%) in symptomatic SOD-1 transgenic mice. This neuron loss correlates temporally with the onset of reactive astrocytosis and the appearance of phosphorylated neurofilament inclusions. The identical timing of motor neuron and interneuron degeneration in this model of ALS strongly suggests that degeneration in the spinal cord of patients with ALS is not specifically directed at motor neurons, but rather more generally at several populations of neurons in the spinal cord. In addition, the late onset and rapid progression of neuron loss suggest that a toxic property is accumulating while the SOD-1 transgenic mice are presymptomatic, and that this toxic property must reach a threshold level before the onset of neuronal degeneration.