Year of Publication


Document Type






First Advisor

George M. Smith


Damage to the adult mammalian central nervous system (CNS), either by traumatic injury or disease, usually results in permanent sensory and/or motor deficits. Regeneration of neural circuits is limited both by the lack of growthpromoting molecules and by the presence of growth-inhibitory molecules in the mature brain and spinal cord. The research described here examines the therapeutic potential of viral vectors and neuronal transplants to reconstruct damaged neural pathways in the CNS. Experimental neural transplantation techniques often fall short of expectations because of limited transplant survival and insufficient neurite outgrowth to repair connections and induce behavioral recovery. These shortcomings are addressed in the current studies by virus-mediated expression of cell-specific neurotrophic and guidance molecules in the host brain prior to cell transplantation. The initial proof-of-principle studies show that viral vectors can be used to create axon-guidance pathways in the adult mammalian brain. With such pathways in place, subsequent transplantation of neurons leads to longdistance, targeted outgrowth of neurites. Application of this technique to a rat model of Parkinsons disease demonstrates that circuit reconstruction leads to functional recovery. For this study, rats were lesioned on one side of their brain with 6-hydroxydopamine to produce a hemiparkinsonian state. The motor deficit was confirmed by amphetamine-induced rotation testing and spontaneous motor asymmetry testing. The rats were then divided into experimental groups to receive lentivirus injections along a path between the substantia nigra (SN) and the striatum to express glial cell-line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), GDNF family receptor alpha-1 (GFR1), netrin-1 or green fluorescent protein (GFP, control). One group received combination injections of lenti-GDNF and lenti-GFR1. One week after virus injections, animals received transplants of embryonic midbrain dopaminergic neurons into their SNs. They were tested for motor asymmetry every two weeks for a total of eight weeks and then brain tissue was harvested for immunohistochemical analysis. Results demonstrate that virus-induced expression of GDNF and GFR1 supports growth of dopaminergic fibers from cells transplanted into the SN all the way to the striatum, and these animals have a significant reduction in both drug-induced and spontaneous motor asymmetry.