Viral-induced spinal motor neuron death is non-cell-autonomous and involves glutamate excitotoxicity

Jessica Darman, Stephanie Backovic, Sonny Dike, Nicholas J. Maragakis, Chitra Krishnan, Jeffrey D. Rothstein, David N. Irani, Douglas A. Kerr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Neuroadapted Sindbis virus (NSV) is a neurotropic virus capable of inducing the death of spinal motor neurons in mice and rats. In this study we investigated the mechanisms that underlie NSV-induced motor neuron death. We found that many degenerating spinal motor neurons were not infected directly with NSV, suggesting that bystander cell death occurs. An excitotoxic mechanism was confirmed when blockade of calcium-permeable AMPA receptors attenuated motor neuron death both in vitro and in vivo. Blockade of astroglial glutamate reuptake potentiated NSV-induced motor neuron loss in vivo, suggesting that astrocyte-mediated removal of perisynaptic glutamate is important in limiting NSV-induced excitotoxic injury. Astroglial glutamate transport was reduced markedly in the spinal cord during NSV infection, in advance of motor neuron injury in susceptible mice. In contrast, we found 5.6-fold elevated glutamate uptake in the spinal cords of mice resistant to NSV-induced paralysis. Likewise, minocycline markedly increased spinal cord glutamate transport and protected mice from NSV-induced motor neuron death. These studies suggest that NSV infection triggers a cascade of events in the spinal cord resulting in impaired astrocytic glutamate transport and excitotoxic injury of motor neurons mediated via calcium-permeable AMPA receptors. Similar changes may occur in other motor neuron disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or West Nile Virus-induced poliomyelitis, suggesting a common tissue injury pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7566-7575
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number34
StatePublished - Aug 25 2004


  • Encephalomyelitis
  • Glutamate
  • Motor neuron
  • Paralysis
  • Spinal
  • Transport
  • Virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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