The β-chemokines CCL2 and CCL7 are two novel differentiation factors for midbrain dopaminergic precursors and neurons

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β-chemokines are secreted factors that regulate diverse functions in the adult brain, such as neuro-immune responses and neurotransmission, but their function in the developing brain is largely unknown. We recently found that the orphan nuclear receptor, Nurr1, up regulates CCL2 and CCL7 in neural stem cells, suggesting a possible function of β-chemokines in midbrain development. Here we report that two β-chemokines, CCL2 and CCL7, and two of their receptors, CCR1 and CCR2, are expressed and developmentally regulated in the ventral midbrain (VM). Moreover, we found that the expression of CCL7 was down regulated in the Nurr1 knockout mice, linking CCL7 to dopamine (DA) neuron development. When the function of CCL2 and CCL7 was examined, we found that they selectively enhanced the differentiation of Nurr1+ precursors into DA neurons, but not their survival or progenitor proliferation in primary precursor cultures. Moreover, both CCL2 and CCL7 promoted neuritogenesis in midbrain DA neuron cultures. Thus, our results show for the first time a function of β-chemokines in the developing brain and identify β-chemokines as novel class of pro-differentiation factors for midbrain DA neurons. These data also suggest that β-chemokines may become useful tools to enhance the differentiation of DA cell preparations for cell replacement therapy and drug discovery in Parkinson's disease (PD).

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