Recombinant human nerve growth factor prevents retrograde degeneration of axotomized basal forebrain cholinergic neurons in the rat

Vassilis E. Koliatsos, Michael D. Applegate, Beat Knüsel, Emmanuel O. Junard, Louis E. Burton, William C. Mobley, Franz F. Hefti, Donald L. Price

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain magnocellular complex (BFMC) respond to nerve growth factor (NGF) during development and in adult life, and it has been suggested that the administration of NGF might ameliorate some of the abnormalities that occur in neurological disorders associated with degeneration of this population of neurons. A prerequisite for the introduction of NGF in clinical trials is the availability of active recombinant human NGF (rhNGF). The present investigation was designed to test, in vivo, the efficacy of a preparation of rhNGF. Axons of cholinergic neurons of the BFMC in the rat were transected in the fimbria-fornix; this manipulation alters the phenotype and, eventually, causes retrograde degeneration of these neurons. Our investigation utilized two lesion paradigms (resection and partial transection of fibers in the fimbria-fornix), two different strains of rats, and two delivery systems. Following lesions, animals were allowed to survive for 2 weeks, during which time one group received intraventricular mouse NGF (mNGF), a second group received rhNGF, and a third group received vehicle alone. In animals receiving vehicle, there was a significant reduction in the number (resection: 70%; transection: 50%) and some reduction in size of choline acetyltransferase- or NGF receptor-immunoreactive cell bodies within the medial septal nucleus ipsilateral to the lesion. Treatment with either mNGF or rhNGF completely prevented these alterations in the number and size of cholinergic neurons. The rhNGF was shown to be equivalent in efficacy with mNGF. Thus, rhNGF is effective in preventing axotomy-induced degenerative changes in cholinergic neurons of the BFMC. Our results, taken together with the in vitro effects of rhNGF (42), indicate that an active rhNGF is now available for further in vivo studies in rodents and primates with experimentally induced or age-associated lesions of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons. These investigations provide essential information for the consideration of future utilization of rhNGF for treatment of human neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-173
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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