Considerable evidence indicates that neurodegeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can be conditioned by a deleterious interplay between motor neurons and astrocytes. Astrocytes are the major glial component in the central nervous system (CNS) and fulfill several activities that are essential to preserve CNS homeostasis. In physiological and pathological conditions, astrocytes secrete a wide range of factors by which they exert multimodal influences on their cellular neighbours. Among others, astrocytes can secrete glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), one of the most potent protective agents for motor neurons. This suggests that the modulation of the endogenous mechanisms that control the production of astrocytic GDNF may have therapeutic implications in motor neuron diseases, particularly ALS. In this study, we identified TNF receptor 1 (TNFR1) signalling as a major promoter of GDNF synthesis/release from human and mouse spinal cord astrocytes in vitro and in vivo. To determine whether endogenously produced TNFα can also trigger the synthesis of GDNF in the nervous system, we then focused on SOD1G93A ALS transgenic mice, whose affected tissues spontaneously exhibit high levels of TNFα and its receptor 1 at the onset and symptomatic stage of the disease. In SOD1G93A spinal cords, we verified a strict correlation in the expression of the TNFα, TNFR1 and GDNF triad at different stages of disease progression. Yet, ablation of TNFR1 completely abolished GDNF rises in both SOD1G93A astrocytes and spinal cords, a condition that accelerated motor neuron degeneration and disease progression. Our data suggest that the astrocytic TNFR1-GDNF axis represents a novel target for therapeutic intervention in ALS.

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