Background: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is among the most common of the motor neuron diseases, and arguably the most devastating. During the course of this fatal neurodegenerative disorder, motor neurons undergo progressive degeneration. The currently best-understood animal models of ALS are based on the over-expression of mutant isoforms of Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1); these indicate that there is a perturbation in metal homeostasis with disease progression. Copper metabolism in particular is affected in the central nervous system (CNS) and muscle tissue.
Methods: This present study assessed previously published and newly gathered concentrations of transition metals (Cu, Zn, Fe and Se) in CNS (brain and spinal cord) and non-CNS (liver, intestine, heart and muscle) tissues from transgenic mice over-expressing the G93A mutant SOD1 isoform (SOD1 G93A), transgenic mice over-expressing wildtype SOD1 (SOD1WT) and non-transgenic controls.
Results: Cu accumulates in non-CNS tissues at pre-symptomatic stages in SOD1G93A tissues. This accumulation represents a potentially pathological feature that cannot solely be explained by the over-expression of mSOD1. As a result of the lack of Cu uptake into the CNS there may be a deficiency of Cu for the over-expressed mutant SOD1 in these tissues. Elevated Cu concentrations in muscle tissue also preceded the onset of symptoms and were found to be pathological and not be the result of SOD1 over-expression.
Conclusions: It is hypothesized that the observed Cu accumulations may represent a pathologic feature of ALS, which may actively contribute to axonal retraction leading to muscular denervation, and possibly significantly contributing to disease pathology. Therefore, it is proposed that the toxic-gain-of-function and dying-back hypotheses to explain the molecular drivers of ALS may not be separate, individual processes; rather our data suggests that they are parallel processes.