, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 270-280

Treatment of Parkinson’s disease with trophic factors

Summary

Trophic factors are proteins that support and protect subpopulations of cells. A number have been reported to act on dopaminergic neurons in vitro and in vivo, making them potential therapeutic candidates for Parkinson’s disease. All of these candidate factors protect dopaminergic neurons if given prior to, or with, selective neurotoxins. Fewer trophic factors, primarily glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and its relative, neurturin (NRTN; also known as NTN), have been shown to restore function in damaged dopamine neurons after the acute effects of neurotoxins have subsided. A major barrier to clinical translation has been delivery. GDNF delivered by intracerebroventricular injection in patients was ineffective, probably because GDNF did not reach the target, the putamen, and intraputaminal infusion was ineffective, probably because of limited distribution within the putamen. A randomized clinical trial with gene therapy for NRTN is underway, in an attempt to overcome these problems with targeting and distribution. Other strategies are available to induce trophic effects in the CNS, but have not yet been the focus of human research. To date, clinical trials have focused on restoration of function (i.e., improvement of parkinsonism). Protection (i.e., slowing or halting disease progression and functional decline) might be a more robust effect of trophic agents. Laboratory research points to their effectiveness in protecting neurons and even restoring dopaminergic function after a monophasic neurotoxic insult. Utility for such compounds in patients with Parkinson’s disease and ongoing loss of dopaminergic neurons remains to be proven.