Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date

1-2012

Abstract

Since its first description in 1874 by Charcot, the hallmark feature of ALS is the progressive degeneration of upper and lower motoneurons (Charcot, 1874). In the spinal cord, motoneuron degeneration starts long before symptom onset and advances in a size-related fashion, in which large-size alpha-motoneurons degenerate first followed by small-size alpha-motoneurons (Pun et al., 2006; Hegedus et al., 2007; Hegedus et al., 2008). There are conflicting reports regarding the survival of the smallest-sized spinal motoneurons, the gamma-motoneurons (Swash and Fox, 1974; Sobue et al., 1981). Despite its original description, the neuronal degeneration in ALS is not limited to motoneurons. Recent reports have shown evidence for degeneration of neurons in the brain (Karim et al., 1998; Lloyd et al., 2000; Maekawa et al., 2004) and interneurons in the spinal cord (Konno et al., 1986; Williams et al., 1990; Takahashi et al., 1993; Stephens et al., 2006).

Before their degeneration, spinal motoneurons experience progressive changes in their properties. These changes result from the pathological actions of the disease and the compensatory mechanisms of the nervous system to mitigate the neuronal malfunction. In this chapter, we describe the changes in the anatomical and electrical properties of spinal motoneurons in various genetic mouse models of ALS and critically analyze literature for the common and different pathological features across these models. We also present data from computer simulations showing the consequences of the alterations in properties of mutant motoneurons on cell excitability and dendritic processing of synaptic inputs. The presented computational analysis allowed for the identification of motoneuron alterations undetectable using standard electrophysiological methods. This information is essential for understanding motoneuron pathophysiology in ALS.

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DOI

10.5772/30711