In a healthy adult brain, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is exclusively expressed by neurons, and, in some instances, it has also been shown to derive from a single neuronal subpopulation. Secreted GDNF acts in a paracrine fashion by forming a complex with the GDNF family receptor α1 (GFRα1), which is mainly expressed by neurons and can act in cis
as a membrane-bound factor or in trans
as a soluble factor. The GDNF/GFRα1 complex signals through interactions with the “rearranged during transfection” (RET) receptor or via the neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) with a lower affinity. GDNF can also signal independently from GFRα1 by interacting with syndecan-3. RET, which is expressed by neurons involved in several pathways (nigro–striatal dopaminergic neurons, motor neurons, enteric neurons, sensory neurons, etc.), could be the main determinant of the specificity of GDNF’s pro-survival effect. In an injured brain, de novo expression of GDNF occurs in glial cells. Neuroinflammation has been reported to induce GDNF expression in activated astrocytes and microglia, infiltrating macrophages, nestin-positive reactive astrocytes, and neuron/glia (NG2) positive microglia-like cells. This disease-related GDNF overexpression can be either beneficial or detrimental depending on the localization in the brain and the level and duration of glial cell activation. Some reports also describe the upregulation of RET and GFRα1 in glial cells, suggesting that GDNF could modulate neuroinflammation.
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