Cellular therapy to target neuroinflammation in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Federica Rizzo1, Giulietta Riboldi1, Sabrina Salani1, Monica Nizzardo1, Chiara Simone1, Stefania Corti  and Eva Hedlund 


Dino Ferrari Centre, Neuroscience Section, Department of Pathophysiology and Transplantation, University of Milan, Neurology Unit, IRCCS Foundation Ca’Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, 20135 Milan, Italy

Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Retzius v. 8, 17177 Stockholm, Sweden
Stefania Corti (Corresponding author)
Eva Hedlund (Corresponding author)
Received: 12 July 2013Revised: 27 August 2013Accepted: 16 September 2013Published online: 8 October 2013


Neurodegenerative disorders are characterized by the selective vulnerability and progressive loss of discrete neuronal populations. Non-neuronal cells appear to significantly contribute to neuronal loss in diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson, and Alzheimer’s disease. In ALS, there is deterioration of motor neurons in the cortex, brainstem, and spinal cord, which control voluntary muscle groups. This results in muscle wasting, paralysis, and death. Neuroinflammation, characterized by the appearance of reactive astrocytes and microglia as well as macrophage and T-lymphocyte infiltration, appears to be highly involved in the disease pathogenesis, highlighting the involvement of non-neuronal cells in neurodegeneration. There appears to be cross-talk between motor neurons, astrocytes, and immune cells, including microglia and T-lymphocytes, which are subsequently activated. Currently, effective therapies for ALS are lacking; however, the non-cell autonomous nature of ALS may indicate potential therapeutic targets. Here, we review the mechanisms of action of astrocytes, microglia, and T-lymphocytes in the nervous system in health and during the pathogenesis of ALS. We also evaluate the therapeutic potential of these cellular populations, after transplantation into ALS patients and animal models of the disease, in modulating the environment surrounding motor neurons from pro-inflammatory to neuroprotective. We also thoroughly discuss the recent advances made in the field and caveats that need to be overcome for clinical translation of cell therapies aimed at modulating non-cell autonomous events to preserve remaining motor neurons in patients.