The role of glial reaction and inflammation in Parkinson's disease

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 Jun:991:214-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb07478.x.


The glial reaction is generally considered to be a consequence of neuronal death in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and Parkinson's disease. In Parkinson's disease, postmortem examination reveals a loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra associated with a massive astrogliosis and the presence of activated microglial cells. Recent evidence suggests that the disease may progress even when the initial cause of neuronal degeneration has disappeared, suggesting that toxic substances released by the glial cells may be involved in the propagation and perpetuation of neuronal degeneration. Glial cells can release deleterious compounds such as proinflammatory cytokines (TNF-alpha, Il-1beta, IFN-gamma), which may act by stimulating nitric oxide production in glial cells, or which may exert a more direct deleterious effect on dopaminergic neurons by activating receptors that contain intracytoplasmic death domains involved in apoptosis. In line with this possibility, an activation of proteases such as caspase-3 and caspase-8, which are known effectors of apoptosis, has been reported in Parkinson's disease. Yet, caspase inhibitors or invalidation of TNF-alpha receptors does not protect dopaminergic neurons against degeneration in experimental models of the disease, suggesting that manipulation of a single signaling pathway may not be sufficient to protect dopaminergic neurons. In contrast, the antiinflammatory drugs pioglitazone, a PPAR-gamma agonist, and the tetracycline derivative minocycline have been shown to reduce glial activation and protect the substantia nigra in an animal model of the disease. Inhibition of the glial reaction and the inflammatory processes may thus represent a therapeutic target to reduce neuronal degeneration in Parkinson's disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Neuroglia*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Dopamine