Absence of SOD1 leads to oxidative stress in peripheral nerve and causes a progressive distal motor axonopathy

Lindsey R. Fischer, Yingjie Li, Seneshaw A. Asress, Dean P. Jones, Jonathan D. Glass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Oxidative stress is commonly implicated in the pathogenesis of motor neuron disease. However, the cause and effect relationship between oxidative stress and motor neuron degeneration is poorly defined. We recently identified denervation at the neuromuscular junction in mice lacking the antioxidant enzyme, Cu,Zn-superoxide dismutase (SOD1) (Fischer et al., 2011). These mice show a phenotype of progressive muscle atrophy and weakness in the setting of chronic oxidative stress. Here, we investigated further the extent of motor neuron pathology in this model, and the relationship between motor pathology and oxidative stress. We report preferential denervation of fast-twitch muscles beginning between 1 and 4. months of age, with relative sparing of slow-twitch muscle. Motor axon terminals in affected muscles show widespread sprouting and formation of large axonal swellings. We confirmed, as was previously reported, that spinal motor neurons and motor and sensory nerve roots in these mice are preserved, even out to 18. months of age. We also found preservation of distal sensory fibers in the epidermis, illustrating the specificity of pathology in this model for distal motor axons. Using HPLC measurement of the glutathione redox potential, we quantified oxidative stress in peripheral nerve and muscle at the onset of denervation. SOD1 knockout tibial nerve, but not gastrocnemius muscle, showed significant oxidation of the glutathione pool, suggesting that axonal degeneration is a consequence of impaired redox homeostasis in peripheral nerve. We conclude that the SOD1 knockout mouse is a model of oxidative stress-mediated motor axonopathy. Pathology in this model primarily affects motor axon terminals at the neuromuscular junction, demonstrating the vulnerability of this synapse to oxidative injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-171
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • ALS
  • Axon
  • Motor neuron
  • Neuromuscular junction
  • Oxidative stress
  • SOD1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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