Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is a potent survival factor for motoneurons (MNs), and is considered a potential agent for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other MN diseases. The effectiveness of GDNF may depend significantly upon its route of delivery to MNs. In this study we tested the neuroprotective effects of target-derived and centrally derived GDNF in the G93A-SOD1 mouse model of ALS using a transgenic approach. We found that overexpression of GDNF in the skeletal muscle (Myo-GDNF mice) significantly delayed the onset of disease and increased the life span of G93A-SOD1 mice by 17 days. The duration of disease also increased by 8.5 days, indicating that GDNF slowed down the progression of disease. Locomotor performance in Myo-GDNF/G93A-SOD1 mice was also significantly improved. The behavioral improvement correlated well with anatomical and histological data. We demonstrated that muscle-derived GDNF resulted in increased survival of spinal MNs, and twice as many MNs survived in end-stage double transgenic mice compared to end-stage G93A-SOD1 mice. Muscle-derived GDNF also had profound effects on muscle innervation and axonal degeneration. Significantly higher numbers of completely or partially innervated NMJs and large caliber myelinated axons were found in double transgenic mice. In contrast, we demonstrated that overexpression of GDNF in astrocytes in the CNS (GFAP-GDNF mice) failed to demonstrate any neuroprotective effects in G93A-SOD1 mice both on behavioral and histological levels. These data indicate that retrograde transport and signaling of GDNF is more physiological and effective for ALS treatment than anterogradely transported GDNF.