Neural transplantation has emerged as a possible therapy for Parkinson's disease (PD). Clinical studies performed during the 1990s, where dopaminergic neurons derived from the human embryonic brain were transplanted into striatum of patients with PD, provided proof-of-principle that long-lasting therapeutic benefits can be achieved. Subsequent studies, in particular two that followed a double-blind, sham surgery, placebo-control design, showed variable and mostly negative results. They also revealed that some patients develop involuntary movements, so called graft-induced dyskinesias, as side effects. Thus, while nigral transplants clearly work well in select PD cases, the technique needs refinement before it can successfully be performed in a large series of patients. In this review, we describe the clinical neural transplantation trials in PD and the likely importance of factors such as patient selection, trial design, preparation of the donor tissue, and surgical techniques for successful outcome and avoiding unwanted side effects. We also highlight that it was recently found that neuropathological signs typical for PD can appear inside some of the grafted neurons over a decade after surgery. Finally, we discuss future possibilities offered by stem cells as potential sources of dopamine neurons that can be used for transplantation in PD.
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