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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Feb 27;104(9):3585-90. Epub 2007 Feb 21.

The pRb/E2F cell-cycle pathway mediates cell death in Parkinson's disease.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Neurology, Philipps University, 35039 Marburg, Germany.


The mechanisms leading to degeneration of dopaminergic neurons (DNs) in the substantia nigra of patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) are not completely understood. Here, we show, in the postmortem human tissue, that these neurons aberrantly express mitosis-associated proteins, including the E2F-1 transcription factor, and appear to duplicate their nuclear DNA. We further demonstrate that the dopaminergic neurotoxin 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine injected into mice and application of its active metabolite 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium to mesencephalic cultures activate the retinoblastoma-E2F pathway in postmitotic DNs. We also find that cell death rather than mitotic division followed the toxin-induced replication of DNA, as determined by BrdU incorporation in DNs. In addition, blocking E2F-1 transcription protected cultured DNs against 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium toxicity. Finally, E2F-1-deficient mice were significantly more resistant to 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine-induced dopaminergic cell death than their wild-type littermates. Altogether, BrdU incorporation in mature neurons and lack of evidence for newborn neurons argue against neuronal turnover in normal conditions or during pathological states in the substantia nigra. Instead, our results demonstrate that mitosis-like signals are activated in mature DNs in patients with PD and mediate neuronal death in experimental models of the disease. Inhibition of mitosis-like signals may therefore provide strategies for neuroprotection in PD.

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