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Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2001 Jun;21(3):237-54.

Cellular basis of steroid neuroprotection in the wobbler mouse, a genetic model of motoneuron disease.

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Laboratory of Neuroendocrine Biochemistry, Instituto de Biología y Medicina Experimental, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


1. The Wobbler mouse suffers an autosomal recessive mutation producing severe motoneuron degeneration and astrogliosis in the spinal cord. It has been considered a suitable model of human motoneuron disease, including the sporadic form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). 2. Evidences exist demonstrating increased oxidative stress in the spinal cord of Wobbler mice, whereas antioxidant therapy delayed neurodegeneration and improved muscle trophism. 21-Aminosteroids are glucocorticoid-derived hydrophobic compounds with antioxidant potency 3 times higher than vitamin E and 100 times higher than methylprednisolone. They do not bind to intracellular receptors, and prevent lipid peroxidation by insertion into membrane lipid bilayers. 3. In common with the spinal cord of ALS patients, Wobbler mice present astrocytosis with hyperexpression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), and increased expression of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and growth-associated protein (GAP-43) in motoneurons. Here, we review our studies on the effects of a 21-aminosteroid on GFAP, NOS, and GAP-43. 4. First, we showed that 21-aminosteroid treatment further increased GFAP-expressing astrocytes in gray matter of the Wobbler spinal cord. This effect may provide neuroprotection if one considers a trophic and beneficial function of astrocytes during the course of degeneration. Other neuroprotectans used in Wobbler mice (T-588) also increased pre-existing astrocytosis. 5. Second, histochemical determination of NADPH-diaphorase, a parameter indicative of neuronal NOS activity, showed that the 21-aminosteroid down-regulated the high activity of this enzyme in ventral horn motoneurons. Therefore, suppression of nitric oxide by decreasing NADPH-diaphorase (NOS) activity may provide neuroprotection considering that excess NO is highly toxic to motoneurons. 6. Finally, 21-aminosteroid treatment significantly attenuated the aberrant expression of both GAP-43 protein and mRNA in Wobbler motoneurons. Hyperexpression of GAP-43 possibly indicated abnormal synaptogenesis, denervation, and muscle atrophy, parameters which may return to normal following antioxidant steroid treatment. 7. Besides 21-aminosteroids, other steroids also behave as neuroprotectans. In this regard, degenerative diseases may constitute potential targets of these hormones, based on the fact that the spinal cord expresses in a regional and cell-specific fashion, receptors for androgens. progesterone, adrenal steroids, and estrogens.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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