Evidence indicates that neuroinflammation contributes to motor neuron degeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neurodegenerative disease leading to progressive muscular paralysis. However, it remains elusive whether inflammatory cells can interact with degenerating distal motor axons, influencing the progressive denervation of neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). By analyzing the muscle extensor digitorum longus (EDL) following paralysis onset in the SOD1G93A rat model, we have observed a massive infiltration and degranulation of mast cells, starting after paralysis onset and correlating with progressive NMJ denervation. Remarkably, mast cells accumulated around degenerating motor axons and NMJs, and were also associated with macrophages. Mast cell accumulation and degranulation in paralytic EDL muscle was prevented by systemic treatment over 15 days with masitinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor currently in clinical trials for ALS exhibiting pharmacological activity affecting mast cells and microglia. Masitinib-induced mast cell reduction resulted in a 35% decrease in NMJ denervation and reduced motor deficits as compared with vehicle-treated rats. Masitinib also normalized macrophage infiltration, as well as regressive changes in Schwann cells and capillary networks observed in advanced paralysis. These findings provide evidence for mast cell contribution to distal axonopathy and paralysis progression in ALS, a mechanism that can be therapeutically targeted by masitinib.
Emiliano Trias, Sofía Ibarburu, Romina Barreto-Núñez, Valentina Varela, Ivan C. Moura, Patrice Dubreuil, Olivier Hermine, Joseph S. Beckman, Luis Barbeito