Molecular Medicine

, Volume 18, Issue 6, pp 971–981 | Cite as

Neuroprotective Effects of Toll-Like Receptor 4 Antagonism in Spinal Cord Cultures and in a Mouse Model of Motor Neuron Degeneration

  • Massimiliano De Paola
  • Alessandro Mariani
  • Paolo Bigini
  • Marco Peviani
  • Giovanni Ferrara
  • Monica Molteni
  • Sabrina Gemma
  • Pietro Veglianese
  • Valeria Castellaneta
  • Valentina Boldrin
  • Carlo Rossetti
  • Chiara Chiabrando
  • Gianluigi Forloni
  • Tiziana Mennini
  • Roberto Fanelli
Research Article


Sustained inflammatory reactions are common pathological events associated with neuron loss in neurodegenerative diseases. Reported evidence suggests that Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) is a key player of neuroinflammation in several neurodegenerative diseases. However, the mechanisms by which TLR4 mediates neurotoxic signals remain poorly understood. We investigated the role of TLR4 in in vitro and in vivosettings of motor neuron degeneration. Using primary cultures from mouse spinal cords, we characterized both the proinflammatory and neurotoxic effects of TLR4 activation with lipopolysaccharide (activation of microglial cells, release of proinflammatory cytokines and motor neuron death) and the protective effects of a cyanobacteriaderived TLR4 antagonist (VB3323). With the use of TLR4-deficient cells, a critical role of the microglial component with functionally active TLR4 emerged in this setting. The in vivo experiments were carried out in a mouse model of spontaneous motor neuron degeneration, the wobbler mouse, where we preliminarily confirmed a protective effect of TLR4 antagonism. Compared with vehicle- and riluzole-treated mice, those chronically treated with VB3323 showed a decrease in microglial activation and morphological alterations of spinal cord neurons and a better performance in the paw abnormality and grip-strength tests. Taken together, our data add new understanding of the role of TLR4 in mediating neurotoxicity in the spinal cord and suggest that TLR4 antagonists could be considered in future studies as candidate protective agents for motor neurons in degenerative diseases.



This work was partially supported by the Lombardy Region Found for the Promotion of Institutional Agreements (NEPENTE [Network lombardo di eccellenza per lo sviluppo di farmaci di origine naturale diretti alla modulazione del microambiente tissutale per la prevenzione e terapia dei tumori e delle malattie neurodegenerative] project ID 14501). A fellowship to A Mariani was funded by the Cariplo Foundation (grant 2009–2426) (Milan, Italy). The authors acknowledge Alessandro Soave for artwork and Judy Baggott for the English revision.

Supplementary material

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Neuroprotective Effects of Toll-Like Receptor 4 Antagonism in Spinal Cord Cultures and in a Mouse Model of Motor Neuron Degeneration


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Massimiliano De Paola
    • 1
  • Alessandro Mariani
    • 1
  • Paolo Bigini
    • 2
  • Marco Peviani
    • 3
  • Giovanni Ferrara
    • 3
  • Monica Molteni
    • 4
  • Sabrina Gemma
    • 4
  • Pietro Veglianese
    • 3
  • Valeria Castellaneta
    • 2
  • Valentina Boldrin
    • 3
  • Carlo Rossetti
    • 5
  • Chiara Chiabrando
    • 1
  • Gianluigi Forloni
    • 3
  • Tiziana Mennini
    • 2
  • Roberto Fanelli
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Health SciencesMario Negri Institute for Pharmacological ResearchMilanItaly
  2. 2.Department of Biochemistry and Molecular PharmacologyMario Negri Institute for Pharmacological ResearchMilanItaly
  3. 3.Department of NeuroscienceMario Negri Institute for Pharmacological ResearchMilanItaly
  4. 4.Bluegreen BiotechMario Negri Institute for Pharmacological ResearchMilanItaly
  5. 5.Department of Biotechnology and Molecular SciencesUniversity of InsubriaVareseItaly

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