Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic neurodegenerative disease characterized by a significant loss of dopaminergic neurons within the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc) and a subsequent loss of dopamine (DA) within the striatum. Despite advances in the development of pharmacological therapies that are effective at alleviating the symptoms of PD, the search for therapeutic treatments that halt or slow the underlying nigral degeneration remains a particular challenge. Activin A, a member of the transforming growth factor β superfamily, has been shown to play a role in the neuroprotection of midbrain neurons against 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) in vitro, suggesting that activin A may offer similar neuroprotective effects in in vivo models of PD. Using robust stereological methods, we found that intrastriatal injections of 6-OHDA results in a significant loss of both TH positive and NeuN positive populations in the SNpc at 1, 2, and 3 weeks post-lesioning in drug naïve mice. Exogenous application of activin A for 7 days, beginning the day prior to 6-OHDA administration, resulted in a significant survival of both dopaminergic and total neuron numbers in the SNpc against 6-OHDA-induced toxicity. However, we found no corresponding protection of striatal DA or dopamine transporter (DAT) expression levels in animals receiving activin A compared to vehicle controls. These results provide the first evidence that activin A exerts potent neuroprotection in a mouse model of PD, however this neuroprotection may be localized to the midbrain.
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