Even though amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease of the upper and lower motor neurons, to date none of the compounds in clinical trials have been tested for improving the health of diseased upper motor neurons (UMNs). There is an urgent need to develop preclinical assays that include UMN health as a readout. Since ALS is a complex disease, combinatorial treatment strategies will be required to address the mechanisms perturbed in patients. Here, we describe a novel in vitro platform that takes advantage of an UMN reporter line in which UMNs are genetically labeled with fluorescence and have misfolded SOD1 toxicity. We report that NU-9, an analog of the cyclohexane-1,3-dione family of compounds, improves the health of UMNs with misfolded SOD1 toxicity more effectively than riluzole or edaravone, -the only two FDA-approved ALS drugs to date-. Interestingly, when NU-9 is applied in combination with riluzole or edaravone, there is an additive effect on UMN health, as they extend longer axons and display enhanced branching and arborization, two important characteristics of healthy UMNs in vitro.
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