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J Neurosci. 1989 Sep;9(9):3326-31.

Evidence that L-dopa-induced rotational behavior is dependent on both striatal and nigral mechanisms.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Parkinson's disease results from the death of the dopamine-containing neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNC). This is accompanied by a loss of dopamine in brain regions, such as the corpus striatum, which receives input from dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra (SN). Since the corpus striatum is the primary target for these dopaminergic neurons, it has long been thought that the corpus striatum is the principal region affected. It was, therefore, natural to assume that replenishing dopamine in the striatum might be an effective treatment for Parkinson's disease. In fact, the dopamine precursor L-dihydroxyphenylalanine (L-dopa), the current drug of choice for treatment of Parkinson's disease, is believed to exert its therapeutic effect by replenishing dopamine levels in the corpus striatum via enzymatic decarboxylation within the synaptic terminals of surviving nigrostriatal neurons (Hornykiewicz, 1974). However, dopamine is also synthesized, stored, and released from the dendrites of SNC neurons that arborize in the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNR) (Cheramy et al., 1981). Using a classic animal model for Parkinson's disease (rats with a unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesion of the SN), we show that L-dopa is also converted to dopamine in significant amounts within the 6-OHDA-lesioned SN. Furthermore, in contrast to the situation in the striatum where dopamine levels are only elevated for a short time, dopamine levels in the SN remain elevated until the behavioral effects of L-dopa have subsided. This elevation of nigral dopamine levels produces rotation that can be blocked by injecting a selective D1 dopamine receptor antagonist (SCH 23390, 2 micrograms in 1 microliter) directly into the SN pars reticulata. Infusion of SCH 23390 into the ipsilateral striatum produced only a modest reduction in L-dopa-induced circling behavior. These results suggest that D1 dopamine receptors in the SN may be at least as important as D1 dopamine receptors in the striatum as a site for the effects of L-dopa. This may have important implications for the therapy of Parkinson's disease.

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