Open Access Research article

Downregulation of genes with a function in axon outgrowth and synapse formation in motor neurones of the VEGFδ/δ mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Alice Brockington1, Paul R Heath1, Hazel Holden1, Paul Kasher1, Florian LP Bender2, Filip Claes3, Diether Lambrechts3, Michael Sendtner2, Peter Carmeliet3 and Pamela J Shaw1*

Author Affiliations

1 Academic Neurology Unit, University of Sheffield, E Floor, Medical School, Beech Hill Road, Sheffield S10 2RX, UK

2 Institute for Clinical Neurobiology, University of Würzburg, D-97080 Würzburg, Germany

3 Vesalius Research Centre, VIB - KULeuven, Leuven, Belgium

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:203  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-203

Published: 26 March 2010



Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is an endothelial cell mitogen that stimulates vasculogenesis. It has also been shown to act as a neurotrophic factor in vitro and in vivo. Deletion of the hypoxia response element of the promoter region of the gene encoding VEGF in mice causes a reduction in neural VEGF expression, and results in adult-onset motor neurone degeneration that resembles amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Investigating the molecular pathways to neurodegeneration in the VEGFδ/δ mouse model of ALS may improve understanding of the mechanisms of motor neurone death in the human disease.


Microarray analysis was used to determine the transcriptional profile of laser captured spinal motor neurones of transgenic and wild-type littermates at 3 time points of disease. 324 genes were significantly differentially expressed in motor neurones of presymptomatic VEGFδ/δ mice, 382 at disease onset, and 689 at late stage disease. Massive transcriptional downregulation occurred with disease progression, associated with downregulation of genes involved in RNA processing at late stage disease. VEGFδ/δ mice showed reduction in expression, from symptom onset, of the cholesterol synthesis pathway, and genes involved in nervous system development, including axonogenesis, synapse formation, growth factor signalling pathways, cell adhesion and microtubule-based processes. These changes may reflect a reduced capacity of VEGFδ/δ mice for maintenance and remodelling of neuronal processes in the face of demands of neural plasticity. The findings are supported by the demonstration that in primary motor neurone cultures from VEGFδ/δ mice, axon outgrowth is significantly reduced compared to wild-type littermates.


Downregulation of these genes involved in axon outgrowth and synapse formation in adult mice suggests a hitherto unrecognized role of VEGF in the maintenance of neuronal circuitry. Dysregulation of VEGF may lead to neurodegeneration through synaptic regression and dying-back axonopathy.