A Computational Model of Loss of Dopaminergic Cells in Parkinson's Disease Due to Glutamate-Induced Excitotoxicity

Front Neural Circuits. 2019 Feb 25;13:11. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2019.00011. eCollection 2019.


Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease associated with progressive and inexorable loss of dopaminergic cells in Substantia Nigra pars compacta (SNc). Although many mechanisms have been suggested, a decisive root cause of this cell loss is unknown. A couple of the proposed mechanisms, however, show potential for the development of a novel line of PD therapeutics. One of these mechanisms is the peculiar metabolic vulnerability of SNc cells compared to other dopaminergic clusters; the other is the SubThalamic Nucleus (STN)-induced excitotoxicity in SNc. To investigate the latter hypothesis computationally, we developed a spiking neuron network-model of SNc-STN-GPe system. In the model, prolonged stimulation of SNc cells by an overactive STN leads to an increase in 'stress' variable; when the stress in a SNc neuron exceeds a stress threshold, the neuron dies. The model shows that the interaction between SNc and STN involves a positive-feedback due to which, an initial loss of SNc cells that crosses a threshold causes a runaway-effect, leading to an inexorable loss of SNc cells, strongly resembling the process of neurodegeneration. The model further suggests a link between the two aforementioned mechanisms of SNc cell loss. Our simulation results show that the excitotoxic cause of SNc cell loss might initiate by weak-excitotoxicity mediated by energy deficit, followed by strong-excitotoxicity, mediated by a disinhibited STN. A variety of conventional therapies were simulated to test their efficacy in slowing down SNc cell loss. Among them, glutamate inhibition, dopamine restoration, subthalamotomy and deep brain stimulation showed superior neuroprotective-effects in the proposed model.

Keywords: Globus Pallidus externa; Izhikevich neuron model; Parkinson's disease; SubThalamic Nucleus; Substantia Nigra pars compacta; deep brain stimulation; excitotoxicity; metabolic disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / drug effects*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists / toxicity*
  • Glutamic Acid / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists
  • Glutamic Acid