Regulation of the Development of Mesencephalic Dopaminergic Systems by the Selective Expression of Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor in Their Targets

Nikolai Kholodilov, Olga Yarygina, Tinmarla Frances Oo, Hui Zhang, David Sulzer, William Dauer, Robert E. Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

70 Scopus citations


Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) has been shown to protect and restore dopamine (DA) neurons in injury models and is being evaluated for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Nevertheless, little is known of its physiological role. We have shown that GDNF suppresses apoptosis in DA neurons of the substantia nigra (SN) postnatally both in vitro and during their first phase of natural cell death in vivo. Furthermore, intrastriatal injection of neutralizing antibodies augments cell death, suggesting that endogenous GDNF plays a role as a target-derived factor. Such a role would predict that overexpression of GDNF in striatum would increase the surviving number of SN DA neurons. To test this hypothesis, we used the tetracycline-dependent transcription activator (tTA)/tTA-responsive promoter system to create mice that overexpress GDNF selectively in the striatum, cortex, and hippocampus. These mice demonstrate an increased number of SN DA neurons after the first phase of natural cell death. However, this increase does not persist into adulthood. As adults, these mice also do not have increased dopaminergic innervation of the striatum. They do, however, demonstrate increased numbers of ventral tegmental area (VTA) neurons and increased innervation of the cortex. This morphologic phenotype is associated with an increased locomotor response to amphetamine. We conclude that striatal GDNF is necessary and sufficient to regulate the number of SN DA neurons surviving the first phase of natural cell death, but it is not sufficient to increase their final adult number. GDNF in VTA targets, however, is sufficient to regulate the adult number of DA neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3136-3146
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number12
StatePublished - Mar 24 2004



  • Apoptosis
  • Neurotrophic factors
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Programmed cell death
  • Striatum
  • Substantia nigra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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