Complement activation in the Parkinson's disease substantia nigra: an immunocytochemical study

J Neuroinflammation. 2006 Oct 19:3:29. doi: 10.1186/1742-2094-3-29.


Background: Inflammatory processes are increased in the Parkinson's disease (PD) brain. The long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs has been associated, in retrospective studies, with decreased risk for PD, suggesting that inflammation may contribute to development of this disorder. The objective of this study was to determine the extent of complement activation, a major inflammatory mechanism, in PD.

Methods: Substantia nigra specimens from young normal subjects (n = 11-13), aged normal subjects (n = 24-28), and subjects with PD (n = 19-20), Alzheimer's disease (AD; n = 12-13), and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB; n = 9) were stained for iC3b and C9, representing early- and late-stage complement activation, respectively. Numbers of iC3b+, C9+, and total melanized neurons in each section were counted in a blinded fashion. Nonparametric analyses were used to evaluate differences between groups and to evaluate correlations between complement staining, numbers of melanized neurons, and the duration of PD.

Results: Lewy bodies in both PD and DLB specimens stained for iC3b and C9. Staining was also prominent on melanized neurons. The percentage of iC3b+ neurons was significantly increased in PD vs. aged normal and AD specimens, and in young normal vs. aged normal specimens. C9 immunoreactivity was significantly increased in PD vs. AD specimens, but unlike iC3b, the increased C9 staining in PD and young normal specimens did not achieve statistical significance vs. aged normal specimens. iC3b and C9 staining in PD specimens was not correlated with the numbers of remaining melanized neurons, nor with the duration of PD.

Conclusion: Complement activation occurs on Lewy bodies and melanized neurons in the PD substantia nigra. Early complement activation (iC3b) is increased on melanized neurons in PD vs. aged normal specimens, and late-stage complement activation (C9) also tends to increase. This latter finding suggests that complement activation may contribute to loss of dopaminergic neurons in some individuals with PD. Complement activation on melanized neurons appears to decrease with normal aging, suggesting a possible neuroprotective role for this process in the normal substantia nigra.