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Exp Neurol. 1999 Mar;156(1):1-15.

Apoptosis in neuronal development and transplantation: role of caspases and trophic factors.

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  • 1Neuroregeneration Laboratories, Harvard Medical School, Program in Neuroscience, McLean Hospital, MRC 119, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, Massachusetts 02478, USA.


Fetal ventral mesencephalic (VM) transplants have been studied in the context of dopaminergic (DA) replacement therapy for Parkinson's disease (PD). DA neurons from VM transplants will grow axons and form functional synapses in the adult host central nervous system (CNS). Recently, studies have demonstrated that most of the transplanted DA neurons die in grafts within the first week after implantation. An important feature of neural development, also in transplanted developing fetal neural tissue, is cell death. However, while about 50% of cells born in the CNS will die naturally, up to 99% of fetal cells die after neural transplantation. It has been shown that VM grafts contain many apoptotic cells even at 14 days after transplantation. The interleukin-1beta converting enzyme (ICE) cysteine protease and 11 other ICE-like-related proteases have been identified, now named caspases. Activation of caspases is one of the final steps before a neuron is committed to die by apoptosis. Here we review this cell death process in detail: Since the growth of fetal neural grafts placed in the adult brain in many ways mimics normal development, it is likely that the caspases also play a functional role in transplants. Pharmacological inhibitors of caspases and genetically modified mice are now available for the study of neuronal death in fetal neuronal transplants. Understanding cell death mechanisms involved in acute cellular injury, necrosis, and programmed cell death (PCD) is useful in improving future neuronal transplantation methodology, as well as in neuroprotection, for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

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