Simvastatin inhibits the activation of p21ras and prevents the loss of dopaminergic neurons in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease

J Neurosci. 2009 Oct 28;29(43):13543-56. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4144-09.2009.


Parkinson's disease (PD) is second only to Alzheimer's disease as the most common devastating human neurodegenerative disorder. Despite intense investigation, no interdictive therapy is available for PD. We investigated whether simvastatin, a Food and Drug Administration-approved cholesterol-lowering drug, could protect against nigrostriatal degeneration after 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) intoxication to model PD in mice. First, MPP(+) induced the activation of p21(ras) and nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) in mouse microglial cells. Inhibition of MPP(+)-induced activation of NF-kappaB by Deltap21(ras), a dominant-negative mutant of p21(ras), supported the involvement of p21(ras) in MPP(+)-induced microglial activation of NF-kappaB. Interestingly, simvastatin attenuated activation of both p21(ras) and NF-kappaB in MPP(+)-stimulated microglial cells. Consistently, we found a very rapid activation of p21(ras) in vivo in the substantia nigra pars compacta of MPTP-intoxicated mice. However, after oral administration, simvastatin entered into the nigra, reduced nigral activation of p21(ras), attenuated nigral activation of NF-kappaB, inhibited nigral expression of proinflammatory molecules, and suppressed nigral activation of glial cells. These findings paralleled dopaminergic neuronal protection, normalized striatal neurotransmitters, and improved motor functions in MPTP-intoxicated mice. Similarly, pravastatin, another cholesterol-lowering drug, suppressed microglial inflammatory responses and protected dopaminergic neurons in MPTP-intoxicated mice, but at levels less than simvastatin. Furthermore, both the statins administered 2 d after initiation of the disease were still capable of inhibiting the demise of dopaminergic neurons and concomitant loss of neurotransmitters, suggesting that statins are capable of slowing down the progression of neuronal loss in the MPTP mouse model. Therefore, we conclude that statins may be of therapeutic benefit for PD patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 1-Methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / drug effects
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / chemically induced
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / physiopathology
  • Pravastatin / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras) / metabolism*
  • Simvastatin / pharmacology*
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology
  • Substantia Nigra / drug effects
  • Substantia Nigra / physiopathology


  • NF-kappa B
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • 1-Methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine
  • Simvastatin
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)
  • Pravastatin
  • Dopamine