Background: Intracerebral transplantation of fetal dopaminergic neurons is a promising new approach for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Patients with parkinsonism induced by 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) have a relatively stable lesion limited to the nigrostriatal system, rendering them ideal candidates for transplantation. Improvement of motor function after neural grafting has previously been observed in nonhuman primates with MPTP-induced parkinsonism.
Methods: We grafted human fetal tissue from the ventral mesencephalon (obtained six to eight weeks after conception) bilaterally to the caudate and putamen in two immunosuppressed patients with severe MPTP-induced parkinsonism, using a stereotaxic technique. The patients were assessed regularly with clinical rating scales, timed tests of motor performance, and [18F]fluorodopa positron-emission tomography during the 18 months before the operation and the 22 to 24 months after the operation.
Results: Both patients had substantial, sustained improvement in motor function and became much more independent. Postoperatively, the second patient's maintenance dose of levodopa was decreased to 150 mg daily, which was 30 percent of the original dose. Striatal uptake of fluorodopa was unchanged 5 to 6 months postoperatively but was markedly and bilaterally increased at 12 to 13 and 22 to 24 months in both patients, closely paralleling the patients' clinical improvement. There were no serious complications.
Conclusions: Bilateral implantation of fetal mesencephalic tissue can induce substantial long-term functional improvement in patients with parkinsonism and severe dopamine depletion and is accompanied by increased uptake of fluorodopa by the striatum. The results in these patients resemble those obtained in MPTP-treated primates and suggest that this will be a useful model for the assessment of transplantation therapies in Parkinson's disease.