This paper reassesses the currently accepted viewpoint that targeting the terminal fields (i.e. striatum) of degenerating nigrostriatal dopamine neurons with neurotrophic factors in Parkinson's disease (PD) is sufficient for achieving an optimal neurotrophic response. Recent insight indicating that PD is an axonopathy characterized by axonal transport deficits prompted this effort. We tested whether a significantly greater neurotrophic response might be induced in SN neurons when the neurotrophic factor neurturin (NRTN) is also targeted to the substantia nigra (SN), compared to the more conventional, striatum-only target. While recognizing the importance of maintaining the integrity of nigrostriatal fibers and terminals (especially for achieving optimal function), we refocused attention to the fate of SN neurons. Under conditions of axonal degeneration and neuronal transport deficits, this component of the nigrostriatal system is most vulnerable to the lack of neurotrophic exposure following striatal-only delivery. Given the location of repair genes induced by neurotrophic factors, achieving adequate neurotrophic exposure to the SN neurons is essential for an optimal neurotrophic response, while the survival of these neurons is essential to the very survival of the fibers. Two separate studies were performed using the 6-OHDA model of nigrostriatal degeneration, in conjunction with delivery of the viral vector AAV2-NRTN (CERE-120) to continuously express NRTN to either striatum or nigra alone or combined striatal/nigral exposure, including conditions of ongoing axonopathy. These studies provide additional insight for reinterpreting past animal neurotrophic/6-OHDA studies conducted under conditions where axon transport deficiencies were generally not accounted for, which suggested that targeting the striatum was both necessary and sufficient. The current data demonstrate that delivering NRTN directly to the SN produces 1) expanded NRTN distribution within the terminal field and cell bodies of targeted nigrostriatal neurons, 2) enhanced intracellular neurotrophic factor signaling in the nigrostriatal neurons, and 3) produced greater numbers of surviving dopamine neurons against 6-OHDA-induced toxicity, particularly under the conditions of active axonopathy. Thus, these data provide empirical support that targeting the SN with neurotrophic factors (in addition to striatum) may help enhance the neurotrophic response in midbrain neurons, particularly under conditions of active neurodegeneration which occurs in PD patients.
Keywords: 6-hydroxydopamine; AAV-NRTN; Animal model; Axon transport deficiencies; Axonopathy; Gene transfer; Neuronal survival; Neurotrophic factors; Neurturin; Parkinson's disease; Substantia nigra; Translational medicine.
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