AMYOTROPHIC lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative disease of motor neurons, characterized by depositions of neurofilaments in the perikarya and proximal axons. The pathogenesis of ALS remains poorly understood, but two lines of evidence suggest that neurofilament accumulation may play a causal role. First, transgenic mice that overexpress neurofilament proteins show motor neuron degeneration1á€-3 and, second, variant alleles of the neurofilament heavy-subunit gene (NF-H) have been found in some human ALS patients4. To investigate how disorganized neurofilaments might cause neurodegeneration, we examined axonal transport of newly synthesized proteins in mice that overexpress the human NF-H gene1. We observed dramatic defects of axonal transport, not only of neurofilament proteins but also of other proteins, including tubulin and actin. Ultrastructural analysis revealed a paucity of cytoskeletal elements, smooth endoplasmic reticulum and especially mitochondria in the degenerating axons. We therefore propose that the neurofilament accumulations observed in these mice cause axonal degeneration by impeding the transport of components required for axonal maintenance, and that a similar mechanism may account for the pathogenesis of ALS in human patients.
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Collard, J., Côté, F. & Julien, J. Defective axonal transport in a transgenic mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Nature 375, 61–64 (1995) doi:10.1038/375061a0
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