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Neurodegener Dis. 2004;1(2-3):88-100.

Neurotrophic factors and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

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Department of Neuroimmunology, Brain Research Institute, University of Vienna, Austria.


The cause of motor neuron death in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) remains a mystery. Initial implications of neurotrophic factor impairment involved in disease progression causing selective motor neuron death were brought forward in the late 1980s. These implications were based on several in vitro studies of motor neuron cultures in which a near to complete rescue of axotomized neonatal motor neurons in the presence of supplementary neurotrophic factors were revealed. These findings pawed the way for extensive investigations in experimental animal models of ALS. Neurotrophic factor administration in rodent ALS models demonstrated a remarkable effect on survival of degenerating motor neurons and rescue of axotomized motor neurons, both in vivo and in vitro. In the absence of efficient therapy for ALS, some of these promising neurotrophic factors have been administered to groups of ALS patients, as they appeared available for clinical trials. Up to date, none of tested factors has lived up to expectations, altering the outcome of the disease. This review summarizes current findings on neurotrophic factor expression in ALS tissue and these factors' potential/debatable clinical relevance to ALS and the treatment of ALS. It also discusses possible interventions improving clinical trial design to obtain efficacy of neurotrophic factor treatment in patients suffering from ALS.

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