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1.  Heparan sulfate proteoglycan syndecan-3 is a novel receptor for GDNF, neurturin, and artemin 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2011;192(1):153-169.
Syndecan-3 may act alone or as a coreceptor with RET to promote cell spreading, neurite outgrowth, and migration of cortical neurons by GNDF, NRTN, and ARTN.
Glial cell line–derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family ligands (GFLs) are potent survival factors for dopaminergic neurons and motoneurons with therapeutic potential for Parkinson’s disease. Soluble GFLs bind to a ligand-specific glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored coreceptor (GDNF family receptor α) and signal through the receptor tyrosine kinase RET. In this paper, we show that all immobilized matrix-bound GFLs, except persephin, use a fundamentally different receptor. They interact with syndecan-3, a transmembrane heparan sulfate (HS) proteoglycan, by binding to its HS chains with high affinity. GFL–syndecan-3 interaction mediates both cell spreading and neurite outgrowth with the involvement of Src kinase activation. GDNF promotes migration of cortical neurons in a syndecan-3–dependent manner, and in agreement, mice lacking syndecan-3 or GDNF have a reduced number of cortical γ-aminobutyric acid–releasing neurons, suggesting a central role for the two molecules in cortical development. Collectively, syndecan-3 may directly transduce GFL signals or serve as a coreceptor, presenting GFLs to the signaling receptor RET.
PMCID: PMC3019558  PMID: 21200028
2.  Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF) Family Ligands (GFLs) Enhance Capsaicin-Stimulated Release of CGRP from Sensory Neurons 
Neuroscience  2009;161(1):148-156.
The glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family ligands (GFLs) are a group of peptides that have been implicated as important factors in inflammation, since they are released in increased amounts during inflammation and induce thermal hyperalgesia upon injection. Isolated sensory neurons in culture and freshly dissociated spinal cord slices were used to examine the enhancement in stimulated-release of the neuropeptide, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), as a measure of sensitization. Exposure of isolated sensory neurons in culture to GDNF, neurturin, and artemin enhanced the capsaicin-stimulated release of immunoreactive CGRP (iCGRP) two to three fold, but did not increase potassium-stimulated release of iCGRP. A similar profile of sensitization was observed in freshly dissociated spinal cord slices. Persephin, another member of the GFL family thought to be important in development, was unable to induce an enhancement in the release of iCGRP. These results demonstrate that specific GFLs are important mediators affecting sensory neuronal sensitivity, likely through modulation of the capsaicin receptor. The sensitization of sensory neurons during inflammation, and the pain and neurogenic inflammation resulting from this sensitization, may be due in part to the effects of these selected GFLs.
PMCID: PMC2832305  PMID: 19285119
artemin; dorsal root ganglia; inflammation; neurturin; sensitization
3.  The role of GDNF family ligand signalling in the differentiation of sympathetic and dorsal root ganglion neurons 
Cell and Tissue Research  2008;333(3):353-371.
The diversity of neurons in sympathetic ganglia and dorsal root ganglia (DRG) provides intriguing systems for the analysis of neuronal differentiation. Cell surface receptors for the GDNF family ligands (GFLs) glial cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), neurturin and artemin, are expressed in subpopulations of these neurons prompting the question regarding their involvement in neuronal subtype specification. Mutational analysis in mice has demonstrated the requirement for GFL signalling during embryonic development of cholinergic sympathetic neurons as shown by the loss of expression from the cholinergic gene locus in ganglia from mice deficient for ret, the signal transducing subunit of the GFL receptor complex. Analysis in mutant animals and transgenic mice overexpressing GFLs demonstrates an effect on sensitivity to thermal and mechanical stimuli in DRG neurons correlating at least partially with the altered expression of transient receptor potential ion channels and acid-sensitive cation channels. Persistence of targeted cells in mutant ganglia suggests that the alterations are caused by differentiation effects and not by cell loss. Because of the massive effect of GFLs on neurite outgrowth, it remains to be determined whether GFL signalling acts directly on neuronal specification or indirectly via altered target innervation and access to other growth factors. The data show that GFL signalling is required for the specification of subpopulations of sensory and autonomic neurons. In order to comprehend this process fully, the role of individual GFLs, the transduction of the GFL signals, and the interplay of GFL signalling with other regulatory pathways need to be deciphered.
PMCID: PMC2516536  PMID: 18629541
GFRalpha; GDNF; Ret; Sympathetic ganglion; Dorsal root ganglion; TRP family channel; Development
4.  Neurorestoration 
Parkinsonism & related disorders  2012;18(0 1):S143-S146.
Although initially thought to be important primarily in neural development, a number of trophic proteins have been found to have neuroprotective and neuroregenerative activity in the adult central system, particularly for midbrain dopamine neurons (MDN). Neurorestoration is potentially feasible for MDN since there is an initial loss of phenotype for these neurons in Parkinson's disease (PD) rather than neuronal death. There is a considerable recent literature on trophic properties of TGF-ß superfamily proteins for MDN's, including glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), neurturin, and bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). This paper will review studies with the factors listed above, as well as describe more recent studies with two newly described trophic proteins, MANF and CDNF. Data will be presented from various animal models of PD suggesting that these trophic proteins may eventually lead to PD therapeutics in man. In addition, some data on small molecules with neuroprotective properties (AP4A, retinoic acid and vitamin D3) will also be described.
PMCID: PMC3245378  PMID: 22166416
5.  Dopaminergic regeneration by neurturin-overexpressing c17.2 neural stem cells in a rat model of Parkinson's disease 
Genetically engineered neural stem cell (NSC) lines are promising vectors for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Parkinson's disease (PD). Neurturin (NTN), a member of the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family, has been demonstrated to act specifically on mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons, suggesting its therapeutic potential for PD. In our previous work, we demonstrated that NTN-overexpressing c17.2 NSCs exerted dopaminergic neuroprotection in a rat model of PD. In this study, we transplanted NTN-c17.2 into the striatum of the 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) PD model to further determine the regenerative effect of NTN-c17.2 on the rat models of PD.
After intrastriatal grafting, NTN-c17.2 cells differentiated and gradually downregulated nestin expression, while the grafts stably overexpressed NTN. Further, an observation of rotational behavior and the contents of neurotransmitters tested by high-performance liquid chromatography showed that the regenerative effect of the NTN-c17.2 group was significantly better than that of the Mock-c17.2 group, and the regenerative effect of the Mock-c17.2 group was better than that of the PBS group. Further research through reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction assays and in vivo histology revealed that the regenerative effect of Mock-c17.2 and NTN-c17.2 cell grafts may be attributed to the ability of NSCs to produce neurotrophic factors and differentiate into tyrosine hydroxylase-positive cells.
The transplantation of NTN-c17.2 can exert neuroregenerative effects in the rat model of PD, and the delivery of NTN by NSCs may constitute a very useful strategy in the treatment of PD.
PMCID: PMC2082017  PMID: 17903274
6.  Sciatic nerve injury in adult rats causes distinct changes in the central projections of sensory neurons expressing different glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor family receptors 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(15):3024-3045.
Most small unmyelinated neurons in adult rat dorsal ganglia (DRG) express one or more of the co-receptors targeted by glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), neurturin and artemin (GFRα1, GFRα2 and GFRα3 respectively). The function of these GDNF family ligands (GFLs) is not fully elucidated but recent evidence suggests GFLs could function in sensory neuron regeneration after nerve injury and peripheral nociceptor sensitisation. In this study, we used immunohistochemistry to determine if the DRG neurons targeted by each GFL change after sciatic nerve injury. We compared complete sciatic nerve transection and the chronic constriction model and found the pattern of changes incurred by each injury was broadly similar. In lumbar spinal cord, there was a widespread increase in neuronal GFRα1 immunoreactivity (IR) in the L1-6 dorsal horn. GFRα3-IR also increased but in a more restricted area. In contrast, GFRα2-IR decreased in patches of superficial dorsal horn and this loss was more extensive after transection injury. No change in calcitonin gene-related peptide-IR was detected after either injury. Analysis of double-immunolabelled L5 DRG sections suggested the main effect of injury on GFRα1- and GFRα3-IR was to increase expression in both myelinated and unmyelinated neurons. In contrast, no change in basal expression of GFRα2-IR was detected in DRG by analysis of fluorescence intensity and there was a small but significant reduction in GFRα2-IR neurons. Our results suggest the DRG neuronal populations targeted by GDNF, neurturin or artemin, and the effect of exogenous GFLs could change significantly after a peripheral nerve injury.
PMCID: PMC2883785  PMID: 20533358
nociceptor; pain; sprouting; regeneration; lumbosacral; spinal cord
7.  Absence of Ret Signaling in Mice Causes Progressive and Late Degeneration of the Nigrostriatal System 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(3):e39.
Support of ageing neurons by endogenous neurotrophic factors such as glial cell line–derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) may determine whether the neurons resist or succumb to neurodegeneration. GDNF has been tested in clinical trials for the treatment of Parkinson disease (PD), a common neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the loss of midbrain dopaminergic (DA) neurons. BDNF modulates nigrostriatal functions and rescues DA neurons in PD animal models. The physiological roles of GDNF and BDNF signaling in the adult nigrostriatal DA system are unknown. We generated mice with regionally selective ablations of the genes encoding the receptors for GDNF (Ret) and BDNF (TrkB). We find that Ret, but not TrkB, ablation causes progressive and adult-onset loss of DA neurons specifically in the substantia nigra pars compacta, degeneration of DA nerve terminals in striatum, and pronounced glial activation. These findings establish Ret as a critical regulator of long-term maintenance of the nigrostriatal DA system and suggest conditional Ret mutants as useful tools for gaining insights into the molecular mechanisms involved in the development of PD.
Author Summary
What does a neuron need to survive? Our body produces its own survival factors for neurons, so-called neurotrophic factors, which have additional roles in neuron differentiation, growth, and function. Declining production of a neurotrophic factor or impaired signal transduction in ageing neurons may contribute to pathological neurodegeneration in humans. Glial cell line–derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) have been suggested as survival factors for midbrain dopaminergic neurons, a group of neurons primarily affected in Parkinson disease.
To investigate the physiological requirements for GDNF and BDNF to establish and maintain an important output pathway of these neurons—the nigrostriatal pathway—in the intact brain, we generated mutant mice with regionally selective ablations of the receptors for these survival factors, Ret (receptor of GDNF and related family members) or TrkB (BDNF receptor). Surprisingly, these mice survive to adulthood and show normal development and maturation of the nigrostriatal system. However, in ageing mice, ablation of Ret leads to a progressive and cell-type–specific loss of substantia nigra pars compacta neurons and their projections into the striatum. Our findings establish Ret and subsequent downstream effectors as critical regulators of long-term maintenance of the nigrostriatal system.
Ret, a receptor for glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor, selectively regulates long-term maintenance of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system.
PMCID: PMC1808500  PMID: 17298183
8.  A Monoclonal Antibody-GDNF Fusion Protein Is Not Neuroprotective and Is Associated with Proliferative Pancreatic Lesions in Parkinsonian Monkeys 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e39036.
Glial cell line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is a neurotrophic factor that has neuroprotective effects in animal models of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and has been proposed as a PD therapy. GDNF does not cross the blood brain barrier (BBB), and requires direct intracerebral delivery to be effective. Trojan horse technology, in which GDNF is coupled to a monoclonal antibody (mAb) against the human insulin receptor (HIR), has been proposed to allow GDNF BBB transport (ArmaGen Technologies Inc.). In this study we tested the feasibility of HIRMAb-GDNF to induce neuroprotection in parkinsonian monkeys, as well as its tolerability and safety. Adult rhesus macaques were assessed throughout the study with a clinical rating scale, a computerized fine motor skills task and general health evaluations. Following baseline measurements, the animals received a unilateral intracarotid artery MPTP injection. Seven days later the animals were evaluated, matched according to disability and blindly assigned to receive twice a week iv. treatments (vehicle, 1 or 5 mg/kg HIRmAb-GDNF) for a period of three months. HIRmAb-GDNF did not improve parkinsonian motor symptoms and induced a dose-dependent hypersensitivity reaction. Quantification of dopaminergic striatal optical density and stereological nigral cell counts did not demonstrate differences between treatment groups. Focal pancreatic acinar to ductular metaplasia (ADM) was noted in four of seven animals treated with 1 mg/kg HIRmAb-GDNF; two of four with ADM also had focal pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia 1B (PanIN-1B) lesions. Minimal to mild, focal to multifocal, nonsuppurative myocarditis was noted in all animals in the 5 mg/kg treatment group. Our results demonstrate that HIRmAb-GDNF dosing in a monkey model of PD is not an effective neuroprotective strategy and may present serious health risks that should be considered when planning future use of the IR antibody as a carrier, or of any systemic treatment of a GDNF-containing molecule.
PMCID: PMC3380056  PMID: 22745701
9.  Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Partially Ameliorates Motor Symptoms Without Slowing Neurodegeneration in Mice With Respiratory Chain-Deficient Dopamine Neurons 
Cell transplantation  2012;22(9):1529-1539.
Degeneration of midbrain dopamine neurons causes the striatal dopamine deficiency responsible for the hallmark motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Intraparenchymal delivery of neurotrophic factors, such as glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), is a possible future therapeutic approach. In animal PD models, GDNF can both ameliorate neurodegeneration and promote recovery of the dopamine system following a toxic insult. However, clinical studies have generated mixed results, and GDNF has not been efficacious in genetic animal models based on α-synuclein overexpression. We have tested the response to GDNF in a genetic mouse PD model with progressive degeneration of dopamine neurons caused by mitochondrial impairment. We find that GDNF, delivered to the striatum by either an adeno-associated virus or via miniosmotic pumps, partially alleviates the progressive motor symptoms without modifying the rate of neurodegeneration. These behavioral changes are accompanied by increased levels of dopamine in the midbrain, but not in striatum. At high levels, GDNF may instead reduce striatal dopamine levels. These results demonstrate the therapeutic potential of GDNF in a progressively impaired dopamine system.
PMCID: PMC3888826  PMID: 23051605
Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF); Mitochondria; Parkinson’s disease (PD); Trophic support; Gene therapy
10.  Bone marrow-derived microglia-based neurturin delivery protects against dopaminergic neurodegeneration in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease 
Neuroscience letters  2013;535:24-29.
Although neurotrophic factors have long been recognized as potent agents for protecting against neuronal degeneration, clinical success in treating Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders has been hindered by difficulties in delivery of trophic factors across the blood brain barrier (BBB). Bone marrow hematopoietic stem cell-based gene therapy is emerging as a promising tool for overcoming drug delivery problems, as myeloid cells can cross the BBB and are recruited in large numbers to sites of neurodegeneration, where they become activated microglia that can secrete trophic factors. We tested the efficacy of bone marrow-derived microglial delivery of neurturin (NTN) in protecting dopaminergic neurons against neurotoxin-induced death in mice. Bone marrow cells were transduced ex vivo with lentivirus expressing the NTN gene driven by a synthetic macrophage-specific promoter. Infected bone marrow cells were then collected and transplanted into recipient animals. Eight weeks after transplantation, the mice were injected with the neurotoxin 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropuridine (MPTP) for seven days to induce dopaminergic neurodegeneration. Microglia-mediated NTN delivery dramatically ameliorated MPTP-induced degeneration of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-positive neurons of the substantia nigra and their terminals in the striatum. Microglia-mediated NTN delivery also induced significant recovery of synaptic marker staining in the striatum of MPTP-treated animals. Functionally, NTN treatment restored MPTP-induced decline in general activity, rearing behavior, and food intake. Thus, bone marrow-derived microglia can serve as cellular vehicles for sustained delivery of neurotrophic factors capable of mitigating dopaminergic injury.
PMCID: PMC3645298  PMID: 23295906
Parkinson’s disease; Gene therapy; Neurodegenerative disease; Neurotrophic factors; Dopamine
11.  Dopamine Neuron Stimulating Actions of a GDNF Propeptide 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9752.
Neurotrophic factors, such as glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), have shown great promise for protection and restoration of damaged or dying dopamine neurons in animal models and in some Parkinson's disease (PD) clinical trials. However, the delivery of neurotrophic factors to the brain is difficult due to their large size and poor bio-distribution. In addition, developing more efficacious trophic factors is hampered by the difficulty of synthesis and structural modification. Small molecules with neurotrophic actions that are easy to synthesize and modify to improve bioavailability are needed.
Methods and Findings
Here we present the neurobiological actions of dopamine neuron stimulating peptide-11 (DNSP-11), an 11-mer peptide from the proGDNF domain. In vitro, DNSP-11 supports the survival of fetal mesencephalic neurons, increasing both the number of surviving cells and neuritic outgrowth. In MN9D cells, DNSP-11 protects against dopaminergic neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA)-induced cell death, significantly decreasing TUNEL-positive cells and levels of caspase-3 activity. In vivo, a single injection of DNSP-11 into the normal adult rat substantia nigra is taken up rapidly into neurons and increases resting levels of dopamine and its metabolites for up to 28 days. Of particular note, DNSP-11 significantly improves apomorphine-induced rotational behavior, and increases dopamine and dopamine metabolite tissue levels in the substantia nigra in a rat model of PD. Unlike GDNF, DNSP-11 was found to block staurosporine- and gramicidin-induced cytotoxicity in nutrient-deprived dopaminergic B65 cells, and its neuroprotective effects included preventing the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria.
Collectively, these data support that DNSP-11 exhibits potent neurotrophic actions analogous to GDNF, making it a viable candidate for a PD therapeutic. However, it likely signals through pathways that do not directly involve the GFRα1 receptor.
PMCID: PMC2841203  PMID: 20305789
12.  RET Signaling is Required for Survival and Normal Function of Non-Peptidergic Nociceptors 
Small unmyelinated sensory neurons classified as nociceptors are divided into two subpopulations based on phenotypic differences including expression of neurotrophic factor receptors. Approximately half of unmyelinated nociceptors express the NGF receptor TrkA and half express the GDNF Family Ligand (GFL) receptor Ret. The function of NGF/TrkA signaling in the TrkA population of nociceptors has been extensively studied and NGF/TrkA signaling is a well established mediator of pain. The GFLs are analgesic in models of neuropathic pain emphasizing the importance of understanding the physiological function of GFL/Ret signaling in nociceptors. However, perinatal lethality of Ret-null mice has precluded the study of the physiological role of GFL/Ret signaling in the survival, maintenance and function of nociceptors in viable mice. We deleted Ret exclusively in nociceptors by crossing nociceptor-specific Nav1.8 Cre and Ret conditional mice to produce Ret-Nav1.8 conditional knock out (CKO) mice. Loss of Ret exclusively in nociceptors results in a reduction in nociceptor number and size indicating Ret signaling is important for the survival and trophic support of these cells. Ret-Nav1.8 CKO mice exhibit reduced epidermal innervation, but normal central projections. In addition, Ret-Nav1.8 CKO mice have increased sensitivity to cold and increased formalin-induced pain, demonstrating that Ret signaling modulates the function of nociceptors in vivo. Enhanced inflammation-induced pain may be mediated by decreased Prostatic Acid Phosphatase (PAP) as PAP levels are markedly reduced in Ret-Nav1.8 CKO mice. The results of this study identify the physiological role of endogenous Ret signaling in the survival and function of nociceptors.
PMCID: PMC2850282  PMID: 20237269
Ret; neurotrophic factor; GDNF; pain; inflammation; nociceptor
13.  Intravenous treatment of experimental Parkinson’s disease in the mouse with an IgG-GDNF fusion protein that penetrates the blood-brain barrier 
Brain research  2010;1352:208-213.
Glial derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is a trophic factor for the nigra-striatal tract in experimental Parkinson’s disease (PD). The neurotrophin must be administered by intra-cerebral injection, because GDNF does not cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB). In the present study, GDNF was re-engineered to enable receptor-mediated transport across the BBB following fusion of GDNF to the heavy chain of a chimeric monoclonal antibody (MAb) against the mouse transferrin receptor (TfR), and this fusion protein is designated cTfRMAb-GDNF. This fusion protein had been previously shown to retain low nM binding constants for both the GDNF receptor and the mouse TfR, and to rapidly enter the mouse brain in vivo following intravenous administration. Experimental PD in mice was induced by the intra-striatal injection of 6-hydroxydopamine, and mice were treated with either saline or the cTfRMAb-GDNF fusion protein every other day for 3 weeks, starting 1 hour after toxin injection. Fusion protein treatment caused a 44% decrease in apomorphine-induced rotation, a 45% reduction in amphetamine-induced rotation, a 121% increase in the vibrissae-elicited forelimb placing test, and a 272% increase in striatal tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) enzyme activity at 3 weeks after toxin injection. Fusion protein treatment caused no change in TH enzyme activity in either the contralateral striatum or the frontal cortex. In conclusion, following fusion of GDNF to a BBB molecular Trojan horse, GDNF trophic effects in brain in experimental PD are observed following intravenous administration.
PMCID: PMC2926206  PMID: 20599807
blood-brain barrier; Parkinson’s disease; GDNF; monoclonal antibody
14.  Ret-dependent and Ret-independent mechanisms of Gfl-induced sensitization 
Molecular Pain  2011;7:22.
The GDNF family ligands (GFLs) are regulators of neurogenic inflammation and pain. We have previously shown that GFLs increase the release of the sensory neuron neuropeptide, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) from isolated mouse DRG.
Inhibitors of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway abolished the enhancement of CGRP release by GDNF. Neurturin-induced enhancement in the stimulated release of CGRP, used as an indication of sensory neuronal sensitization, was abolished by inhibition of the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI-3K) pathway. Reduction in Ret expression abolished the GDNF-induced sensitization, but did not fully inhibit the increase in stimulus-evoked release of CGRP caused by neurturin or artemin, indicating the presence of Ret-independent GFL-induced signaling in sensory neurons. Integrin β-1 and NCAM are involved in a component of Ret-independent GFL signaling in sensory neurons.
These data demonstrate the distinct and variable Ret-dependent and Ret-independent signaling mechanisms by which GFLs induce sensitization of sensory neurons. Additionally, there is a clear disconnect between intracellular signaling pathway activation and changes in sensory neuronal function.
PMCID: PMC3078874  PMID: 21450093
15.  Comparison of GFL–GFRα complexes: further evidence relating GFL bend angle to RET signalling 
The second crystal structure of the GDNF-GFRα1 complex provides further evidence that GFL signalling through RET is determined by the bend angle in the GFL.
Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) activates the receptor tyrosine kinase RET by binding to the GDNF-family receptor α1 (GFRα1) and forming the GDNF2–GFRα12–RET2 heterohexamer complex. A previous crystal structure of the GDNF2–GFRα12 complex (PDB code 2v5e) suggested that differences in signalling in GDNF-family ligand (GFL) complexes might arise from differences in the bend angle between the two monomers in the GFL homodimer. Here, a 2.35 Å resolution structure of the GDNF2–GFRα12 complex crystallized with new cell dimensions is reported. The structure was refined to a final R factor of 22.5% (R free = 28%). The structures of both biological tetrameric complexes in the asymmetric unit are very similar to 2v5e and different from the artemin–GFRα3 structure, even though there is a small change in the structure of the GDNF. By comparison of all known GDNF and artemin structures, it is concluded that GDNF is more bent and more flexible than artemin and that this may be related to RET signalling. Comparisons also suggest that the differences between artemin and GDNF arise from the increased curvature of the artemin ‘fingers’, which both increases the buried surface area in the monomer–monomer interface and changes the inter­monomer bend angle. From sequence comparison, it is suggested that neuturin (the second GFL) adopts an artemin-like conformation, while persephin has a different conformation to the other three.
PMCID: PMC2688408  PMID: 19478429
glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor; GDNF-family receptor α1; artemin; persephin; neuturin; RET tyrosine kinase
16.  Glial cell-line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) replacement attenuates motor impairments and nigrostriatal dopamine deficits in 12-month-old mice with a partial deletion of GDNF 
Glial cell-line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) has been established as a growth factor for the survival and maintenance of dopamine (DA) neurons. In phase I clinical trials, GDNF treatment in Parkinson’s disease patients led to improved motor function and GDNF has been found to be down regulated in Parkinson’s disease patients. Studies using GDNF heterozygous (Gdnf+/−) mice have demonstrated that a partial reduction of GDNF leads to an age-related accelerated decline in nigrostriatal DA system- and motor-function and increased neuro-inflammation and oxidative stress in the substantia nigra (SN). Therefore, the purpose of the current studies was to determine if GDNF replacement restores motor function and functional markers within the nigrostriatal DA system in middle-aged Gdnf+/− mice. At 11 months of age, male Gdnf+/− and wildtype (WT) mice underwent bilateral intra-striatal injections of GDNF (10 μg) or vehicle. Locomotor activity was assessed weekly 1–4 weeks after treatment. Four weeks after treatment, their brains were processed for analysis of GDNF levels and various DAergic and oxidative stress markers. An intrastriatal injection of GDNF increased motor activity in Gdnf+/− mice to levels comparable to WT mice (1 week after injection) and this effect was maintained through the 4-week time point. This increase in locomotion was accompanied by a 40% increase in striatal GDNF protein levels and SN GDNF expression in Gdnf+/− mice. Additionally, GDNF treatment significantly increased the number of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-positive neurons in the SN of middle-aged Gdnf+/− mice, but not WT mice, which was coupled with reduced oxidative stress in the SN. These studies further support that long-term changes related to the dysfunction of the nigrostriatal pathway are influenced by GDNF expression and add that this dysfunction appears to be responsive to GDNF treatment. Additionally, these studies suggest that long-term GDNF depletion alters the biological and behavioral responses to GDNF treatment.
PMCID: PMC3638246  PMID: 23290934
Dopamine; Glial cell-line derived neurotrophic factor; Parkinson’s disease; Neurodegeneration; Striatum; Substantia nigra
17.  Establishment of a Survival and Toxic Cellular Model for Parkinson’s Disease from Chicken Mesencephalon 
Neurotoxicity Research  2012;24(2):119-129.
Cellular models for Parkinson’s disease (PD) represent a fast and efficient tool in the screening for drug candidates and factors involved in the disease pathogenesis. The objective of this study was to establish and characterize a survival and toxic cellular model for PD by culturing dopaminergic neurons from embryonic chicken ventral midbrain. We show that as in rodents, the common neurotrophic factors—brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), and fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2)—are able to support the survival of chicken midbrain dopaminergic neurons. Furthermore, after treatment with MPP+ or rotenone as in vitro models for PD, the number of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive cells decreased drastically. This effect could be significantly rescued by treatment with BDNF or GDNF. Together, our results indicate that mechanisms of neuroprotection of dopaminergic neurons are conserved between chicken and mammals. This supports the use of primary culture from chicken embryonic midbrain as a suitable tool for the study of neuroprotection in vitro.
PMCID: PMC3691473  PMID: 23238634
Dopaminergic neurons; Embryonic chicken midbrain; Neuroprotection; Parkinson’s disease
18.  Delivery of sonic hedgehog or glial derived neurotrophic factor to dopamine-rich grafts in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease using adenoviral vectors 
Brain research bulletin  2005;68(1-2):31-41.
The poor survival of dopamine grafts in Parkinson’s disease is one of the main obstacles to the widespread application of this therapy. One hypothesis is that implanted neurons, once removed from the embryonic environment, lack the differentiation factors needed to develop the dopaminergic phenotype. In an effort to improve the numbers of dopamine neurons surviving in the grafts, we have investigated the potential of adenoviral vectors to deliver the differentiation factor sonic hedgehog or the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor GDNF to dopamine-rich grafts in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease. Adenoviral vectors containing sonic hedgehog, GDNF, or the marker gene LacZ were injected into the dopamine depleted striatum of hemiparkinsonian rats. Two weeks later, ventral mesencephalic cell suspensions were prepared from embryos of donor ages E12, E13, E14 or E15 and implanted into the vector-transduced striatum. Pre-treatment with the sonic hedgehog vector produced a three-fold increase in the numbers of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive (presumed dopaminergic) cells in grafts derived from E12 donors, but had no effect on E13–E15 grafts. By contrast, pre-treatment with the GDNF vector increased yields of dopamine cells in grafts derived from E14 and E15 donors but had no effect on grafts from younger donors. The results indicate that provision of both trophic and differentiation factors can enhance the yields of dopamine neurons in ventral mesencephalic grafts, but that the two factors differ in the age and stage of embryonic development at which they have maximal effects.
PMCID: PMC2902250  PMID: 16325002
Adenovirus; Viral vectors; Animal model; Gene therapy; 6-OHDA; Parkinson’s disease; Dopamine; Transplant; Sonic hedgehog
19.  Co-Transplantation of GDNF-Overexpressing Neural Stem Cells and Fetal Dopaminergic Neurons Mitigates Motor Symptoms in a Rat Model of Parkinson’s Disease 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e80880.
Striatal transplantation of dopaminergic (DA) neurons or neural stem cells (NSCs) has been reported to improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD), but the low rate of cell survival, differentiation, and integration in the host brain limits the therapeutic efficacy. We investigated the therapeutic effects of intracranial co-transplantation of mesencephalic NSCs stably overexpressing human glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF-mNSCs) together with fetal DA neurons in the 6-OHDA rat model of PD. Striatal injection of mNSCs labeled by the contrast enhancer superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) resulted in a hypointense signal in the striatum on T2-weighted magnetic resonance images that lasted for at least 8 weeks post-injection, confirming the long-term survival of injected stem cells in vivo. Co-transplantation of GDNF-mNSCs with fetal DA neurons significantly reduced apomorphine-induced rotation, a behavioral endophenotype of PD, compared to sham-treated controls, rats injected with mNSCs expressing empty vector (control mNSCs) plus fetal DA neurons, or rats injected separately with either control mNSCs, GDNF-mNSCs, or fetal DA neurons. In addition, survival and differentiation of mNSCs into DA neurons was significantly greater following co-transplantation of GDNF-mNSCs plus fetal DA neurons compared to the other treatment groups as indicated by the greater number of cell expressing both the mNSCs lineage tracer enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) and the DA neuron marker tyrosine hydroxylase. The success of cell-based therapies for PD may be greatly improved by co-transplantation of fetal DA neurons with mNSCs genetically modified to overexpress trophic factors such as GDNF that support differentiation into DA cells and their survival in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3849044  PMID: 24312503
20.  Is GDNF beneficial in Parkinson disease? 
Nature reviews. Neurology  2011;7(11):10.1038/nrneurol.2011.149.
Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) has proved efficacious in treatment of neurodegeneration in toxin-induced models of Parkinson disease (PD), but clinical trials have been equivocal. Do the results of a recent study—suggesting that GDNF is ineffective in an α-synuclein-overexpression PD model—exclude GDNF as a therapy for PD?
PMCID: PMC3830920  PMID: 21931353
21.  Nicotinic receptors as CNS targets for Parkinson’s disease 
Biochemical pharmacology  2007;74(8):1224-1234.
Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating neurodegenerative movement disorder characterized by damage to the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system. Current therapies are symptomatic only and may be accompanied by serious side effects. There is therefore a continual search for novel compounds for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease symptoms, as well as to reduce or halt disease progression. Nicotine administration has been reported to improve motor deficits that arise with nigrostriatal damage in parkinsonian animals and in Parkinson’s disease. In addition, nicotine protects against nigrostriatal damage in experimental models, findings that have led to the suggestion that the reduced incidence of Parkinson’s disease in smokers may be due to the nicotine in tobacco. Altogether, these observations suggest that nicotine treatment may be beneficial in Parkinson’s disease. Nicotine interacts with multiple nicotinic receptor (nAChR) subtypes in the peripheral and central nervous system, as well as in skeletal muscle. Work to identify the subtypes affected in Parkinson’s disease is therefore critical for the development of targeted therapies. Results show that striatal α6β2-containing nAChRs are particularly susceptible to nigrostriatal damage, with a decline in receptor levels that closely parallels losses in striatal dopamine. In contrast, α4β2-containing nAChRs are decreased to a much smaller extent under the same conditions. These observations suggest that development of nAChR agonists or antagonists targeted to α6β2-containing nAChRs may represent a particularly relevant target for Parkinson’s disease therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC2046219  PMID: 17631864
α-ConotoxinMII; Nicotine; Nicotinic; Parkinson’s disease; Nigrostriatal; Striatum
22.  Retinal pigment epithelial cells secrete neurotrophic factors and synthesize dopamine: possible contribution to therapeutic effects of RPE cell transplantation in Parkinson's disease 
New strategies for the treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD) are shifted from dopamine (DA) replacement to regeneration or restoration of the nigro-striatal system. A cell therapy using human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells as substitution for degenerated dopaminergic (DAergic) neurons has been developed and showed promising prospect in clinical treatment of PD, but the exact mechanism underlying this therapy is not fully elucidated. In the present study, we investigated whether the beneficial effects of this therapy are related to the trophic properties of RPE cells and their ability to synthesize DA.
We evaluated the protective effects of conditioned medium (CM) from cultured RPE cells on the DAergic cells against 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA)- and rotenone-induced neurotoxicity and determined the levels of glial cell derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) released by RPE cells. We also measured the DA synthesis and release. Finally we transplanted microcarriers-RPE cells into 6-OHDA lesioned rats and observed the improvement in apomorphine-induced rotations (AIR).
We report here: (1) CM from RPE cells can secret trophic factors GDNF and BDNF, and protect DAergic neurons against the 6-OHDA- and rotenone-induced cell injury; (2) cultured RPE cells express L-dopa decarboxylase (DDC) and synthesize DA; (3) RPE cells attached to microcarriers can survive in the host striatum and improve the AIR in 6-OHDA-lesioned animal model of PD; (4) GDNF and BDNF levels are found significantly higher in the RPE cell-grafted tissues.
These findings indicate the RPE cells have the ability to secret GDNF and BDNF, and synthesize DA, which probably contribute to the therapeutic effects of RPE cell transplantation in PD.
PMCID: PMC2709608  PMID: 19558709
23.  Embryonic substantia nigra grafts in the mesencephalon send neurites to the host striatum in non-human primate after overexpression of GDNF 
In spite of partial success in treating Parkinson's disease using ectopically placed grafts of dopamine-producing cells, restoration of the original neuroanatomical circuits, if possible, might work better. Previous evidence of normal anatomic projections from ventral mesencephalic (VM) grafts placed in the substantia nigra (SN) has been limited to neonatal rodents and double grafting or bridging procedures. This study attempted to determine whether injection of a potent growth promoting factor, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), into the target regions or placement of fetal striatal co-grafts in the nigrostriatal pathway might elicit neuritic outgrowth to the caudate nucleus. Four adult St. Kitts green monkeys received embryonic VM grafts into the rostral mesencephalon near the host substantia nigra, and injections of AAV2/GDNF or EIAV/GDNF into the caudate. Three adult monkeys were co-grafted with fetal VM tissue near the substantia nigra and fetal striatal grafts (STR) 2.5 mm rostral in the nigrostriatal pathway. Before sacrifice, the striatal target regions were injected with the retrograde tracer fluorogold (FG). FG label was found in tyrosine hydroxylase-labeled neurons in VM grafts in the SN of only those monkeys that received AAV2/GDNF vector injections into the ipsilateral striatum. All monkeys showed FG labeling in the host substantia nigra when FG labeling was injected on the same side. These data show that grafted dopaminergic neurons can extend neurites to a distant target releasing an elevated concentration of GDNF, and suggest that grafted neurons can be placed into appropriate loci for potential tract reconstruction.
PMCID: PMC2881694  PMID: 19399891
dopaminergic neurons; neurite extension; parkinsonian non-human primate; FG
24.  Regeneration of the MPTP-lesioned Dopaminergic System after Convection-enhanced Delivery of AAV2-GDNF 
Clinical studies to date have failed to establish therapeutic benefit of glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in Parkinson’s disease (PD). In contrast to previous non-clinical neuroprotective reports, this study shows clinically relevant and long-lasting regeneration of the dopaminergic system in rhesus macaques lesioned with 1-methy-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) 3–6 months prior to GDNF gene delivery (AAV2-GDNF). The observed progressive amelioration of functional deficits, recovery of dopamine and regrowth of fibers to the striatal neuropil, demonstrates that high GDNF expression in the putamen promotes restoration of the dopaminergic system in a primate model of advanced PD. Extensive distribution of GDNF within the putamen and transport to the severely lesioned substantia nigra, after convection-enhanced delivery (CED) of AAV2-GDNF into the putamen, indicates anterograde transport via striatonigral connections and is anticipated to occur in PD patients. Overall these data demonstrate non-clinical neurorestoration after putaminal infusion of AAV2-GDNF and suggest that clinical investigation in PD patients is warranted.
PMCID: PMC2914692  PMID: 20631185
Glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor; Neuroregeneration; Gene delivery; Parkinson’s disease; Dopamine; Tyrosine Hydroxylase
25.  Pharmacokinetics and Safety in Rhesus Monkeys of a Monoclonal Antibody-GDNF Fusion Protein for Targeted Blood-Brain Barrier Delivery 
Pharmaceutical Research  2009;26(10):2227-2236.
Glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is a potential therapy for stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or drug addiction. However, GDNF does not cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB). GDNF is re-engineered as a fusion protein with a chimeric monoclonal antibody (MAb) to the human insulin receptor (HIR), which acts as a molecular Trojan horse to deliver the GDNF across the BBB. The pharmacokinetics (PK), toxicology, and safety pharmacology of the HIRMAb-GDNF fusion protein were investigated in Rhesus monkeys.
The fusion protein was administered as an intravenous injection at doses up to 50 mg/kg over a 60 h period to 56 Rhesus monkeys. The plasma concentration of the HIRMAb-GDNF fusion protein was measured with a 2-site sandwich ELISA.
No adverse events were observed in a 2-week terminal toxicology study, and no neuropathologic changes were observed. The PK analysis showed a linear relationship between plasma AUC and dose, a large systemic volume of distribution, as well as high clearance rates of 8–10 mL/kg/min.
A no-observable-adverse-effect level is established in the Rhesus monkey for the acute administration of the HIRMAb-GDNF fusion protein. The fusion protein targeting the insulin receptor has a PK profile similar to a classical small molecule.
PMCID: PMC2737114  PMID: 19609743
blood-brain barrier; insulin receptor; GDNF; primate; Trojan horse

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