Rho kinase inhibition modulates microglia activation and improves survival in a model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Lars Tönges*, Rene Günther, Martin Suhr, Johannes Jansen, Alexander Balck, Kim Ann Saal, Elisabeth Barski, Tobias Nientied, Alexander A. Götz, Jan Christoph Koch, Bernhard K. Mueller, Jochen H. Weishaupt, Michael W. Sereda, Uwe Karsten Hanisch, Mathias Bähr, Paul Lingor

*Corresponding author for this work
64 Citations (Scopus)


Disease progression in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is characterized by degeneration of motoneurons (MN) and their axons, but is also influenced by neighboring cells such as astrocytes and microglial cells. The role of microglia in ALS is complex as it switches from an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective phenotype in early disease to a proinflammatory and neurotoxic phenotype in later stages. Our previous studies in models of neurodegeneration identified rho kinase (ROCK) as a target, which can be manipulated to beneficially influence disease progression. Here, we examined the neuroprotective potential of the ROCK inhibitor Fasudil to target the central pathogenic features of ALS. Application of Fasudil to kainic acid-lesioned primary MN in vitro resulted in a strong prosurvival effect. In vivo, SOD1G93A mice benefited from oral treatment with Fasudil showing prolonged survival and improved motor function. These findings were correlated to an improved survival of motor neurons and a pronounced alteration of astroglial and microglial cell infiltration of the spinal cord under Fasudil treatment. Modeling a proinflammatory microglial phenotype by stimulation with LPS in vitro, Fasudil decreased the release of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines TNFα, Il6, CCL2, CCL3, and CCL5 while CXCL1 release was only transiently suppressed. In sciatic nerve motor axons, neuromuscular junction remodeling processes were increased. In conclusion, we provide preclinical and neurobiological evidence that inhibition of ROCK by the clinically approved small molecule inhibitor Fasudil may be a novel therapeutic approach in ALS combining both neuroprotection and immunomodulation for the cure of this devastating disease.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)217-232
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 02.2014


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