Dopaminergic (DA) neurons of the ventral midbrain (VM) play vital roles in the regulation of voluntary movement, emotion and reward. They are divided into the A8, A9 and A10 subgroups. The development of the A9 group of DA neurons is an area of intense investigation to aid the generation of these neurons from stem cell sources for cell transplantation approaches to Parkinson's disease (PD). This review discusses the molecular processes that are involved in the identity, specification, maturation, target innervation and survival of VM DA neurons during development. The complex molecular interactions of a number of genetic pathways are outlined, as well as recent advances in the mechanisms that regulate subset identity within the VM DA neuronal pool. A thorough understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the development of VM DA neurons will greatly facilitate the use of cell replacement therapy for the treatment of PD.
Many human spinal cord injuries are anatomically incomplete but exhibit complete paralysis. It is unknown why spared axons fail to mediate functional recovery in these cases. To investigate this, we undertook a small-molecule screen in mice with staggered bilateral hemisections in which the lumbar spinal cord is deprived of all direct brain-derived innervation, but dormant relay circuits remain. We discovered that a KCC2 agonist restored stepping ability, which could be mimicked by selective expression of KCC2, or hyperpolarizing DREADDs, in the inhibitory interneurons between and around the staggered spinal lesions. Mechanistically, these treatments transformed this injury-induced dysfunctional spinal circuit to a functional state, facilitating the relay of brain-derived commands toward the lumbar spinal cord. Thus, our results identify spinal inhibitory interneurons as a roadblock limiting the integration of descending inputs into relay circuits after injury and suggest KCC2 agonists as promising treatments for promoting functional recovery after spinal cord injury.
Parkinson's disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, and is characterised by the progressive degeneration of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic (DA) system. Current treatments are symptomatic, and do not protect against the DA neuronal loss. One of the most promising treatment approaches is the application of neurotrophic factors to rescue the remaining population of nigrostriatal DA neurons. Therefore, the identification of new neurotrophic factors for midbrain DA neurons, and the subsequent elucidation of the molecular bases of their effects, are important. Two related members of the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) family, BMP2 and growth differentiation factor 5 (GDF5), have been shown to have neurotrophic effects on midbrain DA neurons both in vitro and in vivo. However, the molecular (signalling pathway(s)) and cellular (direct neuronal or indirect via glial cells) mechanisms of their effects remain to be elucidated. Using the SH-SH5Y human neuronal cell line, as a model of human midbrain DA neurons, we have shown that GDF5 and BMP2 induce neurite outgrowth via a direct mechanism. Furthermore, we demonstrate that these effects are dependent on BMP type I receptor activation of canonical Smad 1/5/8 signalling.
Ventral midbrain (VM) dopaminergic (DA) neurons project to the dorsal striatum via the nigrostriatal pathway to regulate voluntary movements, and their loss leads to the motor dysfunction seen in Parkinson's disease (PD). Despite recent progress in the understanding of VM DA neurogenesis, the factors regulating nigrostriatal pathway development remain largely unknown. The bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) family regulates neurite growth in the developing nervous system and may contribute to nigrostriatal pathway development. Two related members of this family, BMP2 and growth differentiation factor (GDF)5, have neurotrophic effects, including promotion of neurite growth, on cultured VM DA neurons. However, the molecular mechanisms regulating their effects on DA neurons are unknown. By characterising the temporal expression profiles of endogenous BMP receptors (BMPRs) in the developing and adult rat VM and striatum, this study identified BMP2 and GDF5 as potential regulators of nigrostriatal pathway development. Furthermore, through the use of noggin, dorsomorphin and BMPR/Smad plasmids, this study demonstrated that GDF5-and BMP2-induced neurite outgrowth from cultured VM DA neurons is dependent on BMP type I receptor activation of the Smad 1/5/8 signalling pathway.
There is growing awareness that prenatal adversity may increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here, we examined the association between hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) and ASD risk at 7 years of age using the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a representative cohort of 13,192 children born in the UK from 2000 to 2001. We also sought to examine cytokine expression in the serum of women with pre-eclampsia, which is the most common HDP, and whether exposure of foetal neurons to this serum could change patterns of neuronal growth. HDP were reported by mothers 9 months post-delivery. ASD was parent reported at age seven, based on a doctor or health care professional's diagnosis. Weighted logistic regression was used for data analysis, adjusting for several potential confounders including maternal alcohol consumption, education, depression, age, and poverty status. Sensitivity analyses were performed excluding pre-term births, small for gestational age (SGA), and pre-pregnancy hypertension and depression. There was a significant association between HDP and a twofold increased risk of ASD (AOR = 2.10 [95% CI 1.20-3.70]). Excluding preterm births, SGA births, and offspring of women who had pre-pregnancy hypertension or over the age of 40 did not change the results materially. At the cellular level, exposure of foetal cortical neurons to 3% serum isolated from women with an established HDP increased neuronal growth and branching in vitro. These findings indicate that HDP exposure may increase the risk of ASD in the offspring.
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