The term "neurotrophic factor" refers to the ability of a factor to nourish or support the growth of neurons and promote survival and growth of discrete subpopulations of neurons. Neurotrophic factors may protect neurons against cytotoxic insults, and, moreover, neurotrophic factors may offer important therapeutic opportunities that go beyond promoting survival. This chapter also illustrates some of the neurobiological roles of neurotrophic factors in mature animals and discuss how, in some contexts a dysregulation of neurotrophic factor expression may be an important contributor to the pathophysiological state. In these circumstances, a therapeutic potential exists for blocking particular neurotrophic effects. There are a number of families of neurotrophic factors, but two in particular have been studied for their neuroprotective effects. These are neurotrophins and the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family. This chapter further reviews potential use of these neurotrophic factors in neurodegenerative disease.
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