Neurons other than motor neurons in motor neuron disease

Riccardo Ruffoli, Francesca Biagioni, Carla L. Busceti, Anderson Gaglione, Larisa Ryskalin, Stefano Gambardella, Alessandro Frati, Francesco Fornai

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is typically defined by a loss of motor neurons in the central nervous system. Accordingly, morphological analysis for decades considered motor neurons (in the cortex, brainstem and spinal cord) as the neuronal population selectively involved in ALS. Similarly, this was considered the pathological marker to score disease severity ex vivo both in patients and experimental models. However, the concept of non-autonomous motor neuron death was used recently to indicate the need for additional cell types to produce motor neuron death in ALS. This means that motor neuron loss occurs only when they are connected with other cell types. This concept originally emphasized the need for resident glia as well as non-resident inflammatory cells. Nowadays, the additional role of neurons other than motor neurons emerged in the scenario to induce non-autonomous motor neuron death. In fact, in ALS neurons diverse from motor neurons are involved. These cells play multiple roles in ALS: (i) they participate in the chain of events to produce motor neuron loss; (ii) they may even degenerate more than and before motor neurons. In the present manuscript evidence about multineuronal involvement in ALS patients and experimental models is discussed. Specific sub-classes of neurons in the whole spinal cord are reported either to degenerate or to trigger neuronal degeneration, thus portraying ALS as a whole spinal cord disorder rather than a disease affecting motor neurons solely. This is associated with a novel concept in motor neuron disease which recruits abnormal mechanisms of cell to cell communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1115-1123
Number of pages9
JournalHistology and Histopathology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2017


  • ALS spreading
  • Cell to cell propagation
  • Cholinergic partition cells
  • Non autonomous cell death
  • Renshaw cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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