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VEGF expression disparities in brainstem motor neurons of the SOD1 G93A ALS model: Correlations with neuronal vulnerability.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare neuromuscular disease characterized by severe muscle weakness mainly due to degeneration and death of motor neurons. A peculiarity of the neurodegenerative processes is the variable susceptibility among distinct neuronal populations, exemplified by the contrasting resilience of motor neurons innervating the ocular motor system and the more vulnerable facial and hypoglossal motor neurons. The crucial role of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) as a neuroprotective factor in the nervous system is well-established since a deficit of VEGF has been related to motoneuronal degeneration. In this study, we investigated the survival of ocular, facial, and hypoglossal motor neurons utilizing the murine SOD1G93A ALS model at various stages of the disease. Our primary objective was to determine whether the survival of the different brainstem motor neurons was linked to disparate VEGF expression levels in resilient and susceptible motor neurons throughout neurodegeneration. Our findings revealed a selective loss of motor neurons exclusively within the vulnerable nuclei. Furthermore, a significantly higher level of VEGF was detected in the more resistant motor neurons, the extraocular ones. We also examined whether TDP-43 dynamics in the brainstem motor neuron of SOD mice was altered. Our data suggests that the increased VEGF levels observed in extraocular motor neurons may potentially underlie their resistance during the neurodegenerative processes in ALS in a TDP-43-independent manner. Our work might help to better understand the underlying mechanisms of selective vulnerability of motor neurons in ALS.

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