Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) is a potent cytokine in neurodegenerative disorders, but its precise role in particular brain disorders is ambiguous. In motor neuron (MN) disease of the mouse, exemplified by the model wobbler (WR), TNF-alpha causes upregulation of the metalloprotease-disintegrin ADAM8 (A8) in affected brain regions, spinal cord, and brainstem. The functional role of A8 during MN degeneration in the wobbler CNS was investigated by crossing WR with A8-deficient mice: a severely aggravated neuropathology was observed for A8-deficient WR compared with WRA8(+/-) mice, judged by drastically reduced survival [ 7 vs 81% survival at postnatal day 50 (P50)], accelerated force loss in the forelimbs, and terminal akinesis. In vitro protease assays using soluble A8 indicated specific cleavage of a TNF-alpha receptor 1 (p55 TNF-R1) but not a TNF-R2 peptide. Cleavage of TNF-R1 was confirmed in situ, because levels of soluble TNF-R1 were increased in spinal cords of standard WR compared with wild-type mice but not in A8-deficient WR mice. In isolated primary neurons and microglia, TNF-alpha-induced TNF-R1 shedding was dependent on the A8 gene dosage. Furthermore, exogenous TNF-alpha showed higher toxicity for cultured neurons from A8-deficient than for those from wild-type mice, demonstrating that TNF-R1 shedding by A8 is neuroprotective. Our results indicate an essential role for ADAM8 in modulating TNF-alpha signaling in CNS diseases: a feedback loop integrating TNF-alpha, ADAM8, and TNF-R1 shedding as a plausible mechanism for TNF-alpha mediated neuroprotection in situ and a rationale for therapeutic intervention.