Sex-specific behavioural effects of environmental enrichment in a transgenic mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis


Dr A. J. Hannan, 1Howard Florey Institute, as above.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder characterised by motor neuron degeneration, muscle wasting and paralysis. While twin studies support a role for both genetic and environmental factors in ALS, the nature of environmental modifiers is unknown. We therefore compared onset and progression of disease symptoms in female and male transgenic ALS mice (expressing the human SOD1G93A gene mutation) and their wild-type littermates, housed in environmentally enriched versus standard conditions. Environmental enrichment significantly improved motor performance, as measured using the accelerating rotarod, in particular for female mice. This enhanced motor coordination was observed for both SOD1G93A and wild-type mice, suggesting this effect is independent of genotype. Female SOD1G93A mice housed with environmental enrichment were found to reach overt end-stage disease sooner than their standard-housed littermates. However, male SOD1G93A mice did not show significantly accelerated disease progression. This evidence for environmental modulation of ALS pathogenesis in transgenic mice provides insights into activity-dependent aspects of the disease process, and may help identify molecular targets for pharmacological modulators as future therapeutics.