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Neuroscience. 2000;95(2):425-32.

The absence of reactive astrocytosis is indicative of a unique inflammatory process in Parkinson's disease.

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  • 1Department of Medical Anatomy, The Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.


Virtually any neurological disorder leads to activation of resident microglia and invasion of blood-borne macrophages, which are accompanied by an increase in number and change in phenotype of astrocytes, a phenomenon generally termed reactive astrocytosis. One of the functions attributed to activation of astrocytes is thought to involve restoration of tissue damage. Hitherto, the role of astrocytes in the inflammatory reaction occurring in Parkinson's disease has not received much attention. In the present study, we examined the inflammatory events in autopsies of the substantia nigra and putamen from Parkinson's disease patients using age-matched autopsies from normal patients as controls. In the substantia nigra, activation of microglia was consistently observed in all Parkinson's disease autopsies as verified from immunohistochemical detection of CR3/43 and ferritin. Activation of resident microglia was not observed in the putamen. No differences were observed between controls and Parkinson's disease autopsies from the substantia nigra and putamen, in terms of distribution, cellular density or cellular morphology of astrocytes stained for glial fibrillary acidic protein or metallothioneins I and II, the latter sharing high affinity for metal ions and known to be induced in reactive astrocytes, possibly to exert anti-oxidative effects. Together, these findings indicate that the inflammatory process in Parkinson's disease is characterized by activation of resident microglia without reactive astrocytosis, suggesting that the progressive loss of dopaminergic neurons in Parkinson's disease is an ongoing neurodegenerative process with a minimum of involvement of the surrounding nervous tissue. The absence of reactive astrocytosis in Parkinson's disease contrasts what follows in virtually any other neurological disorder and may indicate that the inflammatory process in Parkinson's disease is a unique phenomenon.

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