Microglia activation is a commonly pathological hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a devastating disorder characterized by a selective motor neurons degeneration. Whether such activation might represent a causal event rather than a secondary epiphenomenon remains elusive. Here, we show that CNS-delivery of IL-4 - via a lentiviral-mediated gene therapy strategy - skews microglia to proliferate, inducing these cells to adopt the phenotype of slowly proliferating cells. Transcriptome analysis revealed that IL-4-treated microglia express a broad number of genes normally encoded by embryonic microglia. Since embryonic microglia sustain CNS development, we then hypothesized that turning adult microglia to acquire such phenotype via IL-4 might be an efficient in vivo strategy to sustain motor neuron survival in ALS. IL-4 gene therapy in SOD1 G93A mice resulted in a general amelioration of clinical outcomes during the early slowly progressive phase of the disease. However, such approach did not revert neurodegenerative processes occurring in the late and fast progressing phase of the disease. © 2018 The Author(s).