How Compensation Breaks Down in Parkinson's Disease: Insights From Modeling of Denervated Striatum

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The bradykinesia and other motor signs of Parkinson's disease (PD) are linked to progressive loss of substantia nigra dopamine (DA) neurons innervating the striatum. However, the emergence of idiopathic PD is likely preceded by a prolonged subclinical phase, which may be masked by a variety of pre- and postsynaptic compensatory mechanisms. It is often considered self-evident that the signs of PD manifest only when nigrostriatal degeneration has proceeded to such an extent that putative compensatory mechanisms fail to accommodate the depletion of striatal DA levels. However, the precise nature of the compensatory mechanisms, and the reason for their ultimate failure, has been elusive. In a recent computational study we modeled the effects of progressive denervation, including changes in the dynamics of interstitial DA and also adaptive or compensatory changes in postsynaptic responsiveness to DA signaling in the course of progressive nigrostriatal degeneration. In particular, we found that failure of DA signaling can occur by different mechanisms at different disease stages. We review these results and discuss their relevance for clinical and translational research, and we draw a number of predictions from our model that might be tested in preclinical experiments. © 2016 International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society

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