Nuclear receptor-related factor 1 (Nurr1), a member of the nuclear receptor superfamily, is associated with the induction of dopaminergic (DA) phenotypes in developing and mature midbrain neurons. It is well established that dopaminergic nigrostriatal function decreases with age. Whether age-related deficits in DA phenotypic markers are associated with alterations in Nurr1 expression is unknown. The present study found that virtually all of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive (TH-ir) neurons within the young adult human substantia nigra were Nurr1-immunoreactive (Nurr1-ir) positive. Stereologic counts revealed a significant reduction in the number of Nurr1-ir nigral neurons in middle-aged (23.13%) and aged (46.33%) individuals relative to young subjects. The loss of Nurr1-ir neurons was associated with a similar decline in TH-ir neuron number. In this regard, TH-ir neuronal number was decreased in middle-aged (11.10%) and in aged (45.97%) subjects, and this loss of TH-ir neurons was highly correlated (r = 0.92) with the loss of Nurr1-ir neurons. In contrast, the number of melanin-containing nigral neuron number was generally stable across age groups, indicating that changes in Nurr1 and TH reflect phenotypic age-related changes and not frank neuronal degeneration. In support of this concept, confocal microscopic analyses of Nurr1-ir and TH-ir fluorescence intensity revealed parallel decreases in Nurr1- and TH-immunofluorescence as a function of age. These data demonstrate that age-related decline of DA phenotypic markers is associated with down-regulation of Nurr1 expression in the SN.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.