Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that primarily targets the motor system. Although much is known about the effects of ALS on motor neurons and glial cells, little is known about its effect on proprioceptive sensory neurons. This study examines proprioceptive sensory neurons in mice harboring mutations associated with ALS, in SOD1G93A and TDP43A315T transgenic mice. In both transgenic lines, we found fewer proprioceptive sensory neurons containing fluorescently tagged cholera toxin in their soma five days after injecting this retrograde tracer into the tibialis anterior muscle. We asked whether this is due to neuronal loss or selective degeneration of peripheral nerve endings. We found no difference in the total number and size of proprioceptive sensory neuron soma between symptomatic SOD1G93A and control mice. However, analysis of proprioceptive nerve endings in muscles revealed early and significant alterations at Ia/II proprioceptive nerve endings in muscle spindles before the symptomatic phase of the disease. Although these changes occur alongside those at α-motor axons in SOD1G93A mice, Ia/II sensory nerve endings degenerate in the absence of obvious alterations in α-motor axons in TDP43A315T transgenic mice. We next asked whether proprioceptive nerve endings are similarly affected in the spinal cord and found that nerve endings terminating on α-motor neurons are affected during the symptomatic phase and after peripheral nerve endings begin to degenerate. Overall, we show that Ia/II proprioceptive sensory neurons are affected by ALS-causing mutations, with pathological changes starting at their peripheral nerve endings. J. Comp. Neurol. 523:2477–2494, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
The authors show that Ia/II proprioceptive neurons peripheral nerve endings exhibit pathological features in two mouse lines harboring ALS-causing mutations before the appearance of obvious neurological symptoms. These neurons are critical for the proper functioning of the motor system and directly modulate the activity of α-motor neurons.