Bączyk M, et al. J Exp Med 2020.
Excessive excitation is hypothesized to cause motoneuron (MN) degeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but actual proof of hyperexcitation in vivo is missing, and trials based on this concept have failed. We demonstrate, by in vivo single-MN electrophysiology, that, contrary to expectations, excitatory responses evoked by sensory and brainstem inputs are reduced in MNs of presymptomatic mutSOD1 mice. This impairment correlates with disrupted postsynaptic clustering of Homer1b, Shank,
and AMPAR subunits. Synaptic restoration can be achieved by activation of the cAMP/PKA pathway, by either intracellular injection of cAMP or DREADD-Gs stimulation. Furthermore, we reveal, through independent control of signaling and excitability allowed by multiplexed DREADD/PSAM chemogenetics, that PKA-induced restoration of synapses triggers an excitation-dependent decrease in misfolded SOD1 burden and autophagy overload. In turn, increased MN excitability contributes to restoring synaptic structures. Thus, the decrease of excitation to MN is an early but reversible event in ALS. Failure of the postsynaptic site, rather than hyperexcitation, drives disease pathobiochemistry.