Clinical trials have provided proof of principle that new dopamine neurons isolated from the developing ventral midbrain and transplanted into the denervated striatum can functionally integrate and alleviate symptoms in Parkinson's disease patients. However, extensive variability across patients has been observed, ranging from long-term motor improvement to the absence of symptomatic relief and development of dyskinesias. Heterogeneity of the donor tissue is likely to be a contributing factor in the variable outcomes. Dissections of ventral midbrain used for transplantation will variously contain progenitors for different dopamine neuron subtypes as well as different neurotransmitter phenotypes. The overall impact of the resulting graft will be determined by the functional contribution from these different cell types. The A9 substantia nigra pars compacta dopamine neurons, for example, are known to be particularly important for motor recovery in animal models. Serotonergic neurons, on the other hand, have been implicated in unwanted dyskinesias. Currently little knowledge exists on how variables such as donor age, which have not been controlled for in clinical trials, will impact on the final neuronal composition of fetal grafts. Here we performed a birth dating study to identify the time-course of neurogenesis within the various ventral midbrain dopamine subpopulations in an effort to identify A9-enriched donor tissue for transplantation. The results show that A9 neurons precede the birth of A10 ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons. Subsequent grafting of younger ventral midbrain donor tissue revealed significantly larger grafts containing more mitotic dopamine neuroblasts compared to older donor grafts. These grafts were enriched with A9 neurons and showed significantly greater innervation of the target dorso-lateral striatum and DA release. Younger donor grafts also contained significantly less serotonergic neurons. These findings demonstrate the importance of standardized methods to improve cell therapy for Parkinson's disease and have significant implications for the generation and selectivity of dopamine neurons from stem cell based sources.
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