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Neurobiol Dis. 2012 Jan;45(1):547-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2011.09.011. Epub 2011 Sep 21.

Calcitonin gene-related peptide expression levels predict motor neuron vulnerability in the superoxide dismutase 1-G93A mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

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Molecular Neurosciences Department, Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Marburg, Robert-Koch-Strasse 8, 35037 Marburg, Germany.


In amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) some motor neurons degenerate while others survive. The molecular mechanisms underlying this selective vulnerability and resistance, respectively, are poorly understood. Since the neuropeptide, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), is expressed by many but not all motor neurons, we asked if motor neuron CGRP levels predict their vulnerability in the SOD1-G93A mouse model of ALS. In wild type mice three types of somatic motor neurons were distinguished based on their CGRP expression pattern, i.e. highCGRP, lowCGRP, and nonCGRP. Since motor nuclei III, IV and VI contained mostly nonCGRP motor neurons, they defined the oculomotor group. In comparison, the facial group (nuclei V, VII and XII) contained equal numbers of all three types, while the spinomedullary group (ambiguus nucleus and lumbar spinal cord) contained mainly highCGRP motor neurons. Analysis on the transcript level, and of mice lacking the αCGRP isoform, revealed that these group differences in CGRP expression were predominantly based on αCGRP. At disease end-stage in SOD1-G93A mice, group-specific extent of motor neuron loss correlated with CGRP expression as neurons with highCGRP were reduced by 80%, those with lowCGRP by 50%, and nonCGRP motor neurons were not significantly affected in all three groups. Finally, highCGRP motor neuron degeneration preceded lowCGRP motor neuron degeneration during disease progression. Our analysis revealed that the relative abundance of CGRP mRNA and immunoreactivity in motor neurons predicts their vulnerability. CGRP may be an autocrine or paracrine factor promoting motor neuron degeneration in this ALS model.

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