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Neuroscience. 2009 Sep 29;163(1):482-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.06.008. Epub 2009 Jun 6.

Decreased expression of ErbB4 and tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA and protein in the ventral midbrain of aged rats.

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Department of Neurology, College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45267, USA.


Decreased availability or efficacy of neurotrophic factors may underlie an increased susceptibility of mesencephalic dopaminergic cells to age-related degeneration. Neuregulins (NRGs) are pleotrophic growth factors for many cell types, including mesencephalic dopamine cells in culture and in vivo. The functional NRG receptor ErbB4 is expressed by virtually all midbrain dopamine neurons. To determine if levels of the NRG receptor are maintained during aging in the dopaminergic ventral mesencephalon, expression of ErbB4 mRNA and protein was examined in young (3 months), middle-aged (18 months), and old (24-25 months) Brown Norway/Fischer 344 F1 rats. ErbB4 mRNA levels in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc), but not the adjacent ventral tegmental area (VTA) or subtantia nigra pars lateralis (SNl), were significantly reduced in the middle-aged and old animals when compared to young rats. Protein expression of ErbB4 in the ventral midbrain was significantly decreased in the old rats when compared to the young rats. Expression of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) mRNA levels was significantly reduced in the old rats when compared to young animals in the SNpc, but not in the VTA or SNI. TH protein levels in the ventral midbrain were also decreased in the old animals when compared to the young animals. These data demonstrate a progressive decline of ErbB4 expression, coinciding with a loss of the dopamine-synthesizing enzyme TH, in the ventral midbrain of aged rats, particularly in the SNpc. These findings may implicate a role for diminished NRG/ErbB4 trophic support in dopamine-related neurodegenerative disorders of aging such as Parkinson's disease.

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