Excitotoxicity and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosisvan Cutsem P. · Dewil M. · Robberecht W. · van den Bosch L.
Neurobiology, Campus Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium
Since its description by Charcot more than 130 years ago, the pathogenesis of selective motor neuron degeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) remains unsolved. Over the years, many pathogenic mechanisms have been proposed. Amongst others these include: oxidative stress, excitotoxicity, aggregate formation, inflammation, growth factor deficiency and neurofilament disorganization. This multitude of contributing factors indicates that ALS is a complex disease and also suggests that ALS is a multifactorial disorder. Excitotoxicity is not the newest and most spectacular hypothesis in the ALS field, but it is undoubtedly one of the most robust pathogenic mechanisms supported by an impressive amount of evidence. Moreover, the therapeutic efficacy of riluzole, the only drug proven to slow disease progression in ALS, is most likely related to its anti-excitotoxic properties. In this review, we will give an overview of the arguments in favor of the involvement of excitotoxicity in ALS and of the possible mechanisms leading to motor neuron death. We will also summarize the intrinsic properties of motor neurons that render these cells particularly vulnerable to excitotoxicity and could explain the selective vulnerability of motor neurons in ALS. All this information could help to develop new and better therapeutic strategies that could protect motor neurons from excitotoxicity.
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