Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp 115–126 | Cite as

Human fetal dopamine neurons grafted in a rat model of Parkinson's disease: ultrastructural evidence for synapse formation using tyrosine hydroxylase immunocytochemistry

  • D. J. Clarke
  • P. Brundin
  • R. E. Strecker
  • O. G. Nilsson
  • A. Björklund
  • O. Lindvall


Human fetal mesencephalic dopamine (DA) neurons, obtained from 6.5–9 week old aborted fetuses, were grafted to the striatum of immunosuppressed rats with 6-hydroxydopamine lesions of the ascending mesostriatal DA pathway. The effects on amphetamine-induced motor asymmetry were studied at various timepoints after grafting. At eight weeks, functional graft effects were not evident but after 11 weeks small effects on motor asymmetry could be monitored and rats tested 19–21 weeks after grafting exhibited full reversal of the lesion-induced rotational behaviour. Four rats were sacrificed at different timepoints between 8 and 20 weeks and the grafted DA neurons were studied in tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunocytochemically stained sections at the light and electronmicroscopic level. The grafts contained a total of 500–700 TH-positive neurons in each rat. In one rat sacrificed 8 weeks after grafting the grafted neurons were TH-positive but exhibited virtually no fiber outgrowth. In another rat, sacrificed after 11 weeks, a sparse TH-positive fiber plexus was seen to extend into the adjacent host neostriatum. Two rats sacrificed after 20 weeks both contained TH-positive neurons that gave rise to a rich fiber network throughout the entire host neostriatum, and this fiber network was also seen to extend into the globus pallidus and nucleus accumbens. Very coarse TH-positive processes, identified as dendrites in the electron microscope, projected up to 1.5–2.0 mm from the graft into the host striatum. Ultrastructural analysis revealed that the grafted neurons had formed no TH-positive synaptic contacts with host striatal neurons after 8 weeks, and at 11 weeks some few TH-positive synapses were identified. Twenty weeks after transplantation, abundant TH-positive synaptic contacts with host neurons were seen throughout the neostriatum, and such contacts were identified in the globus pallidus as well. Thus, the present study provides tentative evidence for a time-link between the development of synaptic contacts and the appearance of functional graft effects. Similar to the normal mesostriatal DA pathway, ingrowing TH-positive axons formed symmetric synapses and were mainly seen to contact dendritic shafts and spines. However, in comparison to the normal rat striatum there was a higher incidence of TH-immunoreactive boutons forming synapses onto neuronal perikarya. The TH-positive dendrites that extended into the host striatum were seen to receive non-TH-immunoreactive synaptic contacts, presumably arising from the host neurons. These results suggest that human fetal DA neurons are able to develop a reciprocal synaptic connectivity with the host rat when grafted to the adult brain. Grafting of human fetal DA neurons may therefore be expected to provide a means of restoring regulated synaptic DA release in patients with Parkinson's disease.

Key words

Neural transplantation Dopamine neurons Human fetus Tyrosine hydroxylase immunocytochemistry Synaptic contacts Parkinson's disease 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. J. Clarke
    • 1
  • P. Brundin
    • 2
  • R. E. Strecker
    • 2
  • O. G. Nilsson
    • 2
  • A. Björklund
    • 2
  • O. Lindvall
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PharmacologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of Medical Cell ResearchUniversity of LundLundSweden
  3. 3.Department of NeurologyUniversity of LundLundSweden

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