Neuroinflammation is a pathological hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and is characterized by activated microglia at sites of neuronal injury. In ALS. neurons do not die alone; neuronal injury is noncell- autonomous and depends upon a well-orchestrated dialogue between motor neurons and microglia. Evidence from transgenic models expressing mutant superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD) suggests that the dialogue between motor neurons and microglia initially protects motor neurons. However, with increasing stress and injury within motor neurons, induced by the presence of misfolded proteins such as mSOD1, mitochondrial function and axoplasmic flow are impaired and endoplasmic reticulum stress is induced; misfolded proteins themselves or alternate signals are released from motor neurons and activate microglia. Activated microglia, in turn, switch from anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective to proinflammatory and neurotoxic. Neurotoxic signaling from motor neurons promotes microglial release of reactive oxygen species and pro-inflammatory cytokines further enhancing motor neuron stress and cell injury and initiating a self-propagating cycle of motor neuron injury and cell death. A greater understanding of how to restore the imbalance between neuroprotection and cytotoxicity will depend upon a greater understanding of the motor neuron-microglial dialogue.
KEY WORDS: Microglia, Motoneurons, ALS