Parkinson disease (PD) is a neurological movement disorder resulting primarily from damage to and degeneration of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic pathway. The pathway consists of neural populations in the substantia nigra that project to the striatum of the brain where they release dopamine. Diagnosis of PD is based on the presence of impaired motor features such as asymmetric or unilateral resting tremor, bradykinesia, and rigidity. Nonmotor features including cognitive impairment, sleep disorders, and autonomic dysfunction are also present. No cure for PD has been discovered, and treatment strategies focus on symptomatic management through restoration of dopaminergic activity. However, proposed cell replacement therapies are promising because midbrain dopaminergic neurons have been shown to restore dopaminergic neurotransmission and functionally rescue the dopamine-depleted striatum. In this review, we summarize our current understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of neurodegeneration in PD and discuss the development of new therapeutic strategies that have led to the initiation of exploratory clinical trials. We focus on the applications of stem cells for the treatment of PD and discuss how stem cell research has contributed to an understanding of PD, predicted the efficacy of novel neuroprotective therapeutics, and highlighted what we believe to be the critical areas for future research.
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